By Karen Middleton
Retired pharmacist Tom Dean and his family have for nearly 20 years enjoyed a 320-acre heavily wooded retreat near Elkmont.
Now, because of family members’ steadfast care, preservation and cultivation of the land, the Alabama Forestry Commission has designated the property as a “Treasure Forest.”
A Treasure Forest designation recognizes owners for multi-use forest management. T-R-E-A-S-U-R-E is an acronym that stands for Timber, Recreation, Environment, (and) Aesthetics for Sustained Usable Resource. There are from 12 to 14 such designated forests in Limestone County, according to the commission.
Dean’s son-in-law, Danny Crawford, who accepted the honor Thursday on behalf of the family, said the family had applied for Treasure Forest by emphasizing recreation, aesthetics and wildlife management.
“Normally, the primary objectives are timber, wildlife and recreation, but any one of those can be secondary,” said Doug Ezell, a Forestry Commission agent.
The Treasure Forest designation is only awarded in Alabama, but the Dean family also earned membership in the national Forest Stewardship Program.
“As far as the Forestry Commission goes, we do a plan or help the owner obtain a management plan,” said Ezell. “When they reach certain accomplishments we nominate them.
“Then, it goes to a committee of representatives of different government agencies. They review the application. It’s a fairly lengthy process, but once the application is approved, we present the landowner with signs and certificates. There is only one landowner nominated for the quarter across the state.”
Crawford said Treasure Forests is funded by ALFA and regularly holds conferences and workshops where people can come to learn how to enhance whatever their interests are in land management.
“You’ll have 400 to 500 people attend these,” said Crawford. “They’ll have educational tours, and demonstrations on burning and pond management. It’s usual to have some 400 to 500 people attend.”
Dean purchased the property in 1994 from the late Dr. Stanley Hall and his wife Nancy. A previous owner had earned a Treasure Forest designation, but as the property changed ownership requirements for the designation fell by the wayside. One can still see the weathered wooden signs that say “Treasure Forest,” but until Dean was awarded the honor last week, the previous designation was no longer in effect.
The Dean property wraps around the north and west of Elkmont Rural Village. A spring-fed stream with several scenic waterfalls divides the Dean land from the village, which was developed in the late 1970s by the Alabama Elk River Development Association, which still manages the village properties.
Previous owners of the Dean property built some five concrete scenic overlooks of the stream and waterfalls on which they placed wooden park benches for visitors to contemplate nature and wildlife.
“This whole property down through here used to be one big garbage dump,” said Crawford. “I mean there were acres and acres of junk. Then this guy cleaned it up and the county vacated the right of way so they could put up a gate.”
When Dean purchased the property in 1994, he had two log cabins, one of which dates to 1835, taken to the property and reassembled them.
“They brought the cabins down from north of Minor Hill, Tenn., and put the two cabins together and raised the roof for tall people,” said Crawford.
He said the cabin and a nearby cookhouse with an open grill is the site of a regular Fourth of July family gathering, and over the years Dean and his wife, Doris, regularly invited friends up for cookouts.
“We’ve also had several weddings up here,” said Crawford. “The invitations always say ‘Treasure Forest,’ but now we’ve got the official certification back.”
Crawford said the Dean property has been the site of numerous controlled youth hunts as well as Boy Scout activities. Hunting stands are built on the ground so youngsters don’t fall out. It has also been the site of FFA timber competitions.
There are several patches of corn and now new persimmon trees are planted to sustain the large deer population. Crawford said deer herds became too large in recent years and he called upon state biologists to visit and advise on culling the herd.
“In years of good nutrition, the does will regularly have triplets,” said Crawford. “We’ve been seeing a lot of triplets, when usually they have twins.”
Crawford expressed his appreciation to the Alabama Forestry Commission for its work in helping secure the Treasure Forest designation for the Dean family.
“There were a few hoops to jump through, but here we are at the end,” said Ezell.
“Mr. Dean has been in Limestone County a long time,” said Crawford. “And Limestone County has been good to him, and he likes giving back.”