Saving Mr. Charlie’s Trees:

Aliss Valerie Terrell
4 min readJul 1, 2022


Mr. Charlie and his million trees

People are asking me about my next film and how to participate. I’ve set up a Go Fund Me to tell the story, welcome your feedback and donations. Watch the short teaser here:

To donate:

My name is Aliss Terrell and I’m raising funds to pay for a journey to save Mr. Charlie’s trees. I’m US writer and filmmaker, now based in Paris, France. Charles Terrell was my uncle and a second father to me, a dirt-poor southern dropout who rose from extreme poverty to plant a million trees and create a 1000-acre tree farm that he bequeathed to the University of Georgia Foundation, to be managed sustainably in perpetuity. Unfortunately, the Foundation began selling off the bequest in 2020, to timber interests among others. I’m documenting this on film, traveling with Valentine Monfeuga to the UGA campus to interview representatives of UGA, the Foundation, and environmental activists and explore ways to honor and preserve this bequest. Watch the video above, catch Charlie’s Bio and a synopsis of the upcoming documentary here:

Mr. Charlie, as he was called, was my uncle and a second father to me. I captured his story and persona on film during one of our summer visits just before he planted his millionth seedling. Eldest son of a backwoods preacher-carpenter-share cropper, he was an adventurer who lived for the sea, opera, poetry, gin and love, with only one true religion: trees.

Charlie was born in 1917 in Coosa County, Alabama, when the Deep South was still reeling from the Civil War. Fleeing the Boll Weevil and Spanish flu, his family migrated to South Georgia looking for better prospects. Charlie grew up there against a backdrop of economic hardship and hellfire fundamentalism. When he was 12, his father took a carpentry job far away, leaving Charlie the heavy responsibility of managing the fields and farm animals. To earn extra money for the family, Charlie worked on big holdings whenever he could. It was a hard life. As a teen in the early 1930’s, Charlie left school and ran away to join the Navy. Serving in what he called the “Banana Fleet.” He discovered Latin America and poker, while training to accomplish his childhood ambition of becoming a master deep-sea diver. Towards the end of WWII, he suffered a serious injury on an underwater salvage mission and was sent home, beginning another metamorphosis.

Back in the States, he married Miss Margaret, the love of his life, earned his high school equivalency in one year at a New York City prep school, was accepted at MIT and in 1951, received his civil engineering degree with credits in soil mechanics, all on the GI Bill.

During the post-WWII economic boom, he had a successful career on salvage and infrastructure projects, but the environmental devastation caused by unchecked commercial development wore him down. In the mid 1950’s, he quit, returned to his home town, and bought a cabin in the middle of a swamp. He began buying up parcels of land abused and eroded by over-farming, where he and Miss Margaret planted the first of many trees to reclaim and restore the soil.

This is where my path and Charlie’s crossed. My dad, Charlie’s younger brother, was a Korean War vet with PTSD, often hospitalized. Charlie and Margaret, who couldn’t have children of their own, took me in and I experienced their world. Charlie read me poetry after chores in the evening and played his favorite operas for me. A life-long bond was formed.

Miss Margaret lost her battle with cancer in 1980, sending Charlie into a deep depression. In time his own health deteriorated and he was no longer able to be the land steward he once was. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 86.

At a time when reforestation is a necessity for our survival, Charles Terrell is one of the world’s unsung eco-heroes. With his bare hands, he reclaimed exhausted over-farmed land, creating lakes and planting trees, ultimately bequeathing a 1000-acre tree farm and wildlife refuge to the University of Georgia Foundation. In April 2020, the Foundation began selling off the land, promising to use the profits to fund environmental fellowships.

I’ve become involved in pursuing conservation easements to preserve the bequest. I’m developing a documentary to trace Charlie’s hero journey, a uniquely American story, its potential positive outcomes and hopes for our global future, narrated in his own unique voice and mine, expanded by interviews with international conservation experts and activists for climate justice. An immersive, authentic, thought-provoking human saga, it asks important questions and provides inspiration for the future.

The documentary will highlight the Dogwood Alliance and its role as a champion of Southern forests and climate justice, feature interviews with activists from front-line communities bearing the effects of the pellet industry and deforestation in the south while raising support to save Southern forests and old growth forests everywhere-a galvanizing message from these new land stewards for young people and everyone frozen in climate anxiety. For an international perspective, I will also include interviews with European climate activists and forest advocates.

Will the bequest be broken up and developed? Sacrificed to industrial logging? This case is only one aspect of a much larger problem. As compelling as my uncle’s intentions were, they are the “old face” of conservation, part of an economic model that is no longer viable in a system of social and ecological imbalance we must change.

We as individuals can accomplish much and if we come together. We can invent new economic models to meet the unprecedented challenges of our time.

To donate:

Even small donations are welcome!

Thank you!

Originally published at on July 1, 2022.



Aliss Valerie Terrell

I’ve had several lives since coming to France: grad student, singer songwriter, writer and filmmaker, marriage and mothering….