Ray Knott and Patty Springer, of Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., give a tour of the recently preserved Charles B. Henson Preserve at Johnson's Crook. A structure behind them is part of what's left of a failed development the two hope to rebuild into a park area. / Photo by Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has given a Signal Mountain conservation group a notice of violation for causing damage to a private landowner's property in Dade County, Georgia, by letting sediment and fill material go into a nearby creek.

The landowner also claims the group has caused other damage to his property including his stone columns, survey pins and a trespassing sign.

The conservation group said the property owner is harassing the group and misrepresenting the scope of what it is responsible for.

Frank Saggese owns about 10 acres in Rising Fawn in Dade County. Hurricane Creek runs through parts of his land.

"The peace and tranquility that is associated with this area is like none other," Saggese said. "The Hurricane Creek area is absolutely beautiful."

Despite its beauty, the area has — at times — been at the center of controversy.

The nearly 2,400-acre preserve was originally planned to be a cabin resort to draw visitors from Atlanta with an equestrian center, swimming pool, fine dining, trails and a luxurious spa, according to Times Free Press archives.

Some residences and cabins were built.

The project was touted as a mini-Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and hit the market in 2007. The vacation resort's 2- and 3-acre lots were purchased by about 300 people, most from out of the area, according to archives.

The project was eventually exposed as a $40 million mortgage-fraud scheme that resulted in federal prison sentences for its masterminds, Josh Dobson and Paul Gott.

Most recently, the area at Johnson's Crook is the site of a promising development.

In January 2019, Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. announced it would manage the new Charles B. Henson Preserve at Johnson's Crook, the nearly 2,400 acres on Lookout Mountain.

The conservancy received a donation of the land from an anonymous donor and Georgia-Alabama Land Trust Inc. The donated property was once slated to be used for The Preserve at Rising Fawn, a development that ultimately failed.

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust protected many parcels of the failed development as they became available. It holds a permanent conservation easement on all the land.

Other land was given by an anonymous donor who purchased it and donated it as a tax write-off.

Southeastern Cave Conservancy's plan is to add more than 5 miles of hiking with longer connecting trails going to other preserves in the area. The group envisions mountain biking trails, picnicking, camping, and, most of all, caving.

The property has more than 30 known caves and one of the highest concentrations of caves in the Southeast, according to the Southeastern Cave Conservancy.

Now, a grand entrance gate, some homes, cabins, ruins from an unfinished town community center and beautiful land are what's left. Several large scenic ponds, rolling hills, countryside, pasture and Lookout Mountain shape the property.

However, some of that development has stalled, as Saggese discovered earlier this year.

About three months ago, Saggese visited his property and found the work being done by Southeastern Cave Conservancy had done damage to Hurricane Creek and looked as though the developers had abandoned the project.

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After the Easter tornado came through Dade County and several other heavy storms in April, Saggese said, the site on his property got worse.

Saggese said he had reached out to the organization several times to complain about the damage but never received confirmation the group would come rectify the problem. That's when he called the state's Environmental Protection Division.

"This not only affects my land but the environment in general," he said.

Saggese sent photos of rock, debris, gravel and other materials that had either fallen in the creek or were left there from the last time developers had done work on the project to the Environmental Protection Division. Saggese also reached out to the Dade County Commission, both of which were very helpful to him in the process, he said.

The Environmental Protection Division came to visit the site on May 6 after Saggese. On May 20, the state agency sent a notice to Southeastern Cave Conservancy.

The notice requires the organization to give the Environmental Protection Division steps that outline how all sediment and fill material that have entered Hurricane Creek will be removed and properly relocated or disposed of. It also required Southeastern Cave Conservancy to give the state a construction schedule and a date of completion for the project.

Patty Springer, board director of Southeastern Cave Conservancy and manager of the Henson Preserve, said the Environmental Protection Division's requests are simple and the organization should not have any problem completing what needs to be done in the time frame given.

"The [Environmental Protection Division] is concerned with how much debris got in the creek," she said. "That can be less than a day's work by hand."

Springer said her group is planning to hire a specialist to come in and make sure the work is done right.

She also pushed back on Saggese's claims that Southeastern Cave Conservancy is at fault for causing the damage.

"On April 12 we had seven inches of rain fall in six hours," she said. "Everyone had roads washed out and culverts washed out."

Springer also said Saggese failed to mention that the road he is upset about in the area overflows "twice a year, every year," because of the terrain and the design of culverts in the area.

Contact Patrick Filbin at or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.