January 2014
Outdoor Life

Land to Understand

Jerry Paul Owen on a small creek running under the cabin.  

Jerry Paul Owen’s dream was to create a place where people could not only enjoy the outdoors but be able to see how land
and wildlife management techniques could truly benefit the land.

If you look on the map, the name of the creek running through Jerry Paul Owen’s property is Henry Creek. But if you ask anyone in Cleburne County, this is Penny Creek. In 1972, an unmarked government truck hauling more than $70,000 worth of newly minted pennies crashed and sent the cargo into the creek.

People flocked to the area for a few weeks hoping to cash in on the coins in the stream.

"For a long time, people were searching the creeks with metal detectors, but the Secret Service got most of the coins out," Owen said. "From that day on, Henry Creek was called Penny Creek."

Owen, a retired plumber and current circuit clerk for Cleburne County, dreamed of buying the land for years, but it wasn’t until years after the previous owner died that he was able to purchase it. She had told her kids if they ever decided to sell to let Owen have a shot at it.

  A couple of scouts take time to fish in the creek running under the cabin.

"I bought the 170 acres on both sides of Penny Creek in 2000," Owen said. "Most of the improvements you see I was able to do with a Komatsu PC 120 Trackhoe."

Owen’s property is a Certified Treasure Forest and it’s certified for Classroom in the Forest.

"This is a place we can show kids God’s creation and get them off the technology for a while," Owen remarked. "I have 27 acres in tillable cropland, 40 acres in managed pines and the rest is mixed hardwoods, and it’s all managed for wildlife."

Owen’s dream was to create a place where people could not only enjoy the outdoors but be able to see how land and wildlife management techniques could truly benefit the land.

"Originally, I just wanted to create a place where my grandkids would always be able to hunt even if the federal government shut down the public hunting lands," Owen explained. "Now that I’ve seen how successful the wildlife and land management programs have been on this property, I would love to see other landowners care for their land this way."

The two biggest attractions on Owen’s place are his cabin built over a creek and a suspended bridge crossing Penny Creek. "I used the excavator to clean out the creek, pile drive the steel beams and lay the concrete for the footing of the cabin," Owen stated. "With cables and a turnbuckle system, I was able to square the cabin up for the rest of the construction."

The Scouts are shown on Jerry Paul Owen’s suspended bridge over Penny Creek.  

The suspended bridge, always a favorite of the Boy Scouts and other guests, was originally built so Owen could cross the creek to hunt in rainy weather.

"I used the excavator to dig out the creek banks and set the wooden posts in concrete," Owen said. "I then used cables for the flooring frame and hand rails with a turnbuckle system. Every few years, I can tighten the cables with the turnbuckles."

It took a lot of planning and work to create the aesthetic structures on the property and turn the land around so that a variety of wildlife species could be supported. There are shooting houses and ground blinds set up in the hunting areas, and Owen keeps certain parts of the property as wildlife sanctuaries where the wildlife have safe zones.

Owen has groves of sawtooth oak planted for deer and turkey, and his cropland is planted exclusively for wildlife.

"On the 27 acres, we plant corn, oats, wheat and rye," Owen said. "I always keep at least 12 acres of corn and soybeans."

The Boy Scouts have been coming to Owen’s place for many reasons. First, there are species of every Southern hardwood, wildlife forages and a diverse amount of woody vegetation they can identify. Second, they get a chance to make plaster molds of fresh track including deer, turkey, coyote, raccoon and other wildlife.

Left to right, the loft allows for two upstairs beds and the handrails are plumbing pipe used by Jerry Paul Owen in the plumbing business. There are shooting houses overlooking the croplands.The Scouts gather in front of the cabin for outdoor church and prayer.  

 

"I have trails cut throughout the property, so this makes it easier for groups like the Boy Scouts to go on hikes and conduct wildlife and habitat studies," Owen added.

One of the assignments for the Boy Scouts was to split into groups and collect items on a scavenger hunt. Samples of leaf varieties, animal habitats, animal tracks and wildlife food sources were a few of the items each group was responsible for finding.

"You know, you just can’t learn this stuff with smart phones and the computer," Owen remarked. "Once a kid pulls a wild muscadine to eat or chews on a sourwood leaf from our farm or picks up a wild turkey feather to go in their hat, they remember the experience much more than just clicking on it with a mouse on a computer."

The Scouts have also completed many merit badges at Owen’s farm.

"Jerry Paul gives us a standing invitation to come out any time to work with the Scouts," said Scoutmaster Jerry McCullough. "Last year we camped on the banks of Penny Creek and spent the day making plaster casts of animal prints, following animals to their dens and learning true woods-wisdom skills."

Even though Owen donates weekend trips to the cabin and farm for fundraisers, National Wild Turkey Federation events and church groups, he says he doesn’t manage his farm for financial profit.

"I just think God blessed me with this land so I could help educate and bless others with it," Owen stated. "I would just love to see other people use their land to benefit people in a positive way."

There might not be any pennies left in Penny Creek, but Jerry Paul Owen continues to find value in the land for what it can offer future generations.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.