By Jim Walker, District Leader, Georgia Forest Watch: "Don’t be surprised to encounter Army Rangers in the Cooper Creek area."
I have long been accustomed to seeing soldiers and signs of their activity in the vicinity of Camp Merrill, the Ranger training base in the Etowah watershed, and as far away as Hickory Flat in the Noontootla watershed. They even use the Appalachian Trail. But until this year, to my knowledge, they have never operated as far away from the camp as Cooper Creek.Back in June, Georgia ForestWatch District Leader David Govus came across two soldiers on foot and one in a pickup truck near Bryant Creek, a tributary of Cooper Creek. Talking with them, he learned that they were scouting out potential helicopter landing zones in the area because, as the sergeant said “the colonel wants to step out.”The first confirmation that this has been accomplished was on a Sunday in early November. While David was leading a hike in the Cooper Creek area, he met six big army trucks. A soldier on foot in the lead was very helpful in squeezing the wide trucks past the hikers’ vehicles on the narrow road.Then in December, I had an opportunity to observe the whole operation in action. Accompanying a Forest Service employee going out to core some trees and survey a couple of older stands included in the proposed Cooper Creek project, we came upon a blazing fire. Expecting hunters, instead we found six soldiers with two jeeps, two trailers, and a very large canvas tent, maybe 200 square feet. Not wanting to interfere with their operation, we talked with them to make sure that we would not get in their way. No problem, they said. They would be conducting a three-day training exercise, but the bulk of the troops would not be arriving until later. They also told us that these exercises would be happening on a regular basis, and “you can expect to be seeing a lot more of us.”With the soldiers’ permission, we went on up the ridge to measure the diameters of selected trees and core them to determine their age. About an hour later, I heard two helicopters approaching and could see that they were heading toward a food plot about a mile and a half away. Because of the terrain, I could not see them land, but they were out of sight only briefly before returning the way they came. The helicopters made four or five trips to the same location, and as we passed by their campfire on our way out, the soldiers verified that those were their guys coming in.In an apparently unrelated incident, I recently happened to be at Wilscot Gap, where the gated road to Brawley Mountain (FS45) begins, when a big pickup truck turned in toward the gate. I thought it must be Forest Service employees and went over to talk with them. But the truck was not a Forest Service one. The driver was not in military uniform, but the passenger who got out to unlock the gate, was. We had a brief, friendly conversation during which he informed me that, “This is a military road.” “No,” I contradicted him, “it’s a Forest Service road.”