Saving Mr. Charlie’s Trees: The Plot Thickens (a lot)

Aliss Valerie Terrell
5 min readFeb 8


One of the lakes Mr. Charlie created on his bequest for wildlife

The French would call this documentary un travail de fourmi, literally ant work, something ambitious, done in tiny increments. The long process does have advantages: time to spread the word, linking a circle of allies.

While on hold, I shared the previous update “Behind the Scenes” with the first people I reached out to three years ago, who were moved by the story and gave me valuable leads to build a network for the film. Sometimes I don’t realize how far we’ve come, but they remind me and applaud. I’m grateful.

This week/soon: finalizing edits on the trailer/preview as team schedules permit, cutting in the better Danna Smith* interview clips (thank you, videographer Kyle and editor Chris).

Other advances: new contacts with extended family and friends in Grady County, Georgia, close neighbors of Mr. Charlie’s, who either knew him personally and witnessed his decades of tree planting and conservation, or heard of him through the local grapevine. They were shocked in 2020 when Charlie’s land was “posted” as Private Property and gunshots rang out there for the first time in 50 years.

Mr. Charlie thought his 1000 acres would be kept safe in perpetuity and signed agreements with UGA stipulating that it be available for use by the community for “recreation practices including but not limited to bird watching, hiking, camping, horseback riding and nature study” with “no sport hunting, trapping or killing of wildlife including mammals, reptiles, amphibians or fowl of any type.” When UGA sold it, the new owner’s first move was to restrict pubic access and grant leases for hunting.

Trees were Mr. Charlie’s priority because he put those million seedlings in the ground with his own hands and nurtured them to maturity. Their greater purpose was to heal and protect land and wildlife. (We now know they’re essential to mitigate climate change.)

In his own words: “Above all I want to save the earth from Man’s destruction. It’s more important to me than my own life.”

This is why he created lakes and wetlands.

Mr. Charlie’s excavation for Lake Linda, now Terrell Lake.
Bald cypress Mr. Charlie planted for erosion control and wildlife forage on wetlands he developed at his home place on the bequest.

Thursday February 2nd was the UN’s World Wetlands Day. For more information on their importance to the planet:

Now, the best hope now to protect Mr. Charlie’s trees and wetlands would be to set up conservation easements with the new owners. But who are they?

According to public records, most of the bequest was sold to one lumber company, whose CEO is a UGA alum and member of the Alumni board (= donor). His company has thousands of acres in the state. Their website does not list his contact information and seems to have been bought out recently. A second tract has already changed hands at double the price. The third parcel was purchased by a family in Florida….

This is where it’s vital to have boots on the ground. My contacts in the area are investigating. (Thank you Harris family)

I’ve been talking about this with conservation professionals (Tall Timbers and Alabama Georgia Land Trust) for 2 years. Ideally, they could broker conservation deals, but they’re already stretched in terms of personnel and resources, given the long list of endangered landscapes and creatures they’re called upon to safeguard.

When I spoke to the UGA Dean of Forestry recently he confirmed that the university will not use their clout or resources to assist with this in any way.

Can I as an individual approach all these new owners? Were they aware of Mr. Charlie’s intent for the land or were the properties presented as mere real estate? Could the lumber CEO see preserving the property as good PR? Do the others care about conservation?

My documentary may be the only way to save Mr. Charlie’s trees, at least virtually. Perhaps it will help save other forests.

Right now in Georgia: I know Mr. Charlie would identify with the people risking their lives for trees at the South River Forest:

“…one of Atlanta’s largest, richest and most enjoyable urban woodlands. It borders a predominantly Black, underprivileged neighborhood. The battle for its future erupted over a year ago when the City Council, in a decision met by much public resistance, approved plans for a $90 million, 85-acre training center in the middle of the woods. It would be one of the biggest centers of its kind anywhere in the country, containing not only a shooting range and driving course for practicing high-speed chases, but also an entire simulated village where police would train to conduct raids.”

… “A 26-year-old protester, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, is dead, gunned down by law enforcement in what they are calling an act of self-defense.”

- Richard Powers, author of Overstory, NYT, February 2, 2023

For inspiration: Danna Smith* was at the White House this week with a delegation of scientists and activists advocating for Southern Forests and Climate Justice. More about this to come…

* Danna Smith, Founder and Executive director of the Dogwood Alliance, first row left,

These people make my “ant work” worthwhile, a labor of love.


Originally published at on February 8, 2023.



Aliss Valerie Terrell

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