The origin of GOAL began with a few informal group meetings during the first few months of 1994. However, the original idea for an organization of local landowners began to materialize after the Shorts Fire in 1989.
The Shorts Fire of 1989 stretched the manpower and equipment of industry, private landowners, and state and federal agencies. In the ensuing years, numerous large fires in and around the Okefenokee Swamp continued to require significant resources to fight the wildfires. It became even more obvious that a more concerted and coordinated effort by all involved would provide for a safer, more successful and cost effective way to manage wildfires.
After the informal group meetings, Skippy Reeves, Refuge Manager of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge; Bill Oettmeier, President of Superior Pine, and Joe Hopkins, President of Toledo Manufacturing met to develop a more formalized organization. Their vision was a more formalized organization of landowners and managers in the Okefenokee Swamp area to manage wildfires and other common resource issues. They envisioned this organization should meet regularly as an entire unit and also have a small group of leaders to represent the entire group.
On September 1, 1994, an informal committee met at Toledo Manufacturing in Folkston. This meeting was presided over by Joe Hopkins, standing in the bed of a pick-up truck, and presenting their vision of a formalized organization of landowners and managers to address issues associated with wildfire and other common resource issues. Key landowner representatives were from Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia Forestry Commission, Florida Division of Forestry, Union Camp, Rayonier, Champion, Superior Pine, Jefferson Smurfit, and Toledo Manufacturing. Early in the meeting it became apparent that an organization was needed, and there were many issues that could be effectively dealt with by a coordinated effort of landowners and land managers. The results of this meeting was a vision that “the organization of interested landowners would address land management issues of special concern to southeast Georgia and northeast Florida and produce a consolidated and influential position to deal with these issues.” It was also decided that a group of Steering Committee members could effectively work to set direction and needed organization. Gary Howell, Champion International, was selected as the Chairman of the steering committee; and Jim Kauffman, Jefferson Smurfit, was selected as the Co-Chairman. Meeting schedules were determined with two general meetings (spring and fall) of ALL interested landowners and managers, and a minimum of two Steering Committee meetings prior to the general meetings to plan and recommend organizational direction.
At this time, the organization had no formal name. Jim Kauffman, brought the name GREATER OKEFENOKEE ASSOCIATION OF LANDOWNERS (GOAL), to one of the first steering committee meetings. This name reflected the organization and was quickly accepted as the formal name.
Initially, approximated eighty (80) names were on the mailing list for GOAL. The companies represented included:
The Langdale Company, Gilman Paper Company, Union Camp Corporation, Toledo Manufacturing Company, Jefferson Smurfit Corporation, Superior Pine Company, Georgia Pacific, Champion International Corporation, Little Suwannee Lumber Company, Rayonier, Georgia Forestry Commission, Florida Division of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and numerous private landowners. These landowners represented over two million acres in the southeast Georgia and northeast Florida area.
Since 1994, GOAL has supported many resource projects and resolved many issues. Notable projects include the study of black bear within the GOAL area, the development of and maintenance of the Swamp’s Edge Break, Perimeter Road, helicopter dip sites, mapping of roads and fuel types, equipment and people resource list, communication concerns, wild hog problems, hydrology studies, management of large fire overhead teams, forest management concerns as applicable to wildfire control.
Finally, GOAL provides an excellent opportunity and forum for communicating to a large group of landowners any number of issues, sharing ideas, and consolidating resources. This continues to be a diverse group of individuals managing the Greater Okefenokee Ecosystem.
This is our GOAL.