UGA receives $18.5M from sale of Lake Blackshear property

This story, written by Kristen Morales, was originally published on UGA Today on July 5, 2023.

A wooded parcel of land on South Georgia’s Lake Blackshear has netted a sizable gift for a school at the University of Georgia.

The 2,500-acre property—one of the last undeveloped parcels on the lake—recently sold for $18.5 million to an undisclosed buyer. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, which received the land as a donation from businessman Charles Wheatley in 1989.

The land was given with only one stipulation: that the school use it “as it deems best.” Since then, Warnell has managed the land for timber and hunting. But last year, after fielding several inquiries about the property, the school began to investigate a possible sale.

The timing was right, said Warnell’s dean, Dale Greene.

“After years of stewardship, we felt the market was in a good place,” said Greene. “We are very pleased with the outcome, and the funds from the sale will be transformative for our school as we prepare the next generation of foresters and natural resources professionals.”

The school plans to create three separate funds from the land sale. One fund will be dedicated to building updates and modernization efforts of the campus facilities in Athens. The other two funds will be established as endowments to allow the school to benefit in perpetuity. One endowed fund will support research, such as funding for post-doctoral positions and equipment, while the other will enhance student learning through the hiring of additional instructors and teaching assistants, as well as technology improvements.

Greene explained the interest earned from the endowed funds for research and teaching will fund their designated activities year after year without drawing down the original amount. All three funds may accept additional contributions.

“It means our faculty can find dedicated support for lab improvements or technology advances, for example,” added Greene. “This kind of funding gives our faculty added flexibility when pursuing research funding and special projects, or in recruiting top talent for graduate students.”

Ever since Wheatley’s gift of the property to Warnell, the school has worked to manage the land sustainably. It invested more than $1.3 million for reforestation and control of invasive species. Over the decades, the school has received $8.2 million from timber sales and other investment earnings.

These proceeds have funded dozens of graduate students at Warnell while also supporting the Wheatley Distinguished Professorship in Forest Health. Recipients of this professorship have worked to enhance society’s broader knowledge of forest environments, with efforts that have led to a better understanding of deer management and water resources.

But by taking the next step and realizing the larger potential for Wheatley’s gift, Greene said, its impact will be felt on a much larger scale for decades to come.

“We are tremendously excited by the potential,” he said. “But we are also extremely thankful for this opportunity to fulfill our mission to train the next generation of leaders in forestry and natural resources.”