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Nature’s Hidden Gems in Bibb County

Mayor Lester Miller recently toured Cliffview Lake, which is set to become a passive park, and the remote Duck Ponds on Lake Tobesofkee.

MACON, Georgia — A great gray heron flew off the shallow edge of a pond in western Bibb County as county leaders approached from two vans.

For most members of the county commission, it was a journey into uncharted territory with somewhat mysterious landscapes in the Bibb County countryside.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller recently planned a field trip on behalf of the commission to secluded scenic vistas on state property off Houston Avenue and at the duck ponds of Lake Tobesofkee.

“It doesn’t feel like Macon,” Miller said of the ponds, while the district commissioners marveled at the beautiful scenery, where a lone fisherman seemed surprised to have so much company.

The Duck Ponds are a hidden treasure barely mentioned on the county’s Lake Tobesofkee website. On the online map it is only listed as Tobesofkee Recreation Area.

At Block 1100 of Bonn’s Gilbert Road, not far from the Monroe County Line at Thomaston Road, a brown sign announces: “Lake Tobesofkee Area ‘E’ or Duck Ponds Tobesofkee Recreation area.”

A smaller sign advises visitors that use of the lake requires a permit or permit, which can be purchased at the lake’s other gated entrances at Claystone, Sandy Beach, and Lake Arrowhead. During the commission’s visit, rangers in vehicles patrolled the trails that snaked around the finger-like ponds that connect to the lake’s “Big Water” just north of Lower Thomaston Road near the Beaver Oaks subdivision.

On the list of properties for sale, the mayor spotted the borough’s property at 8470 Rock Mill Road, which provides access to the ponds.

Miller has taken the property off the rest list. Online tax records show it’s worth over $560,000 for 202 acres, but the mayor said “the lot size is off” but didn’t know the exact size off of his head.

He sees these ponds as “a valuable asset” and “an undeveloped resource,” although he did not mention any upcoming plans for the area.

Trip Advisor lists the Duck Ponds as #24 on its list of 47 things to do in Macon.

In a 2015 post on the travel site, contributor Lizzey Riley wrote about the “secret fishing lake.”

“The Duck Ponds offer a secluded area for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. It’s also just a pretty spot to sit and have a picnic near the water. There is an eagle’s nest on one side of the ponds and eagles are often seen flying in the area.”

No eagles were sighted visiting the county and the duck ponds were oddly devoid of ducks.

Miller pointed out to the commissioners that the tranquil waterways and creek leading to the lake are only seven miles from I-475.

The commissioners were taken back by the beauty of the country.

“This is beautiful,” was a common comment, as others admitted they never knew the place existed.

Miller says he believes it was once used as part of the lake’s fish farm.

Work on Cliffview Lake funded by SPLOST

As future plans for the secluded duck ponds unfold, Miller has taken steps to groom another natural setting closer to the heart of the city. The Cliffview Lake lot surrounded by homes on Houston Avenue. has been idle since being purchased by the county in 2004.

Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis initiated the purchase of nearly 21 acres of private land under Gov. Roy Barnes’ Georgia Greenspace Trust, which aimed to preserve 20 percent of the land in each of the state’s counties.

Ellis said he traveled the city many times during his tenure and was surprised to discover a lake hidden by woods between Antioch Road, Robert Henry Street and Cliffview Drive.

Ellis met landowner Jimmy Woodard, who during one of their conversations suggested that the city buy the land.

“It’s a spring-fed lake, it’s a natural lake, it’s not man-made, and I’m getting old and I want to sell it all,” Ellis recalled of Woodard.

The City of Macon bought the land for $52,000 to provide a bit of nature near downtown.

“I just felt it was so important because it would give families the opportunity to have picnics, go fishing, just sit under a tree and read a book and have some space. To have green spaces to run around and not do anything if they didn’t want to,” Ellis recently told The Macon Newsroom.

He envisioned a mini Amerson River Park with hiking trails and a place to fish.

The city was financially “out of control” at the time and Ellis left office with no further work undertaken.

In 2016, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert took the commissioners on a field trip to the remote location just a block from Broadway, but no plans were formulated to make better use of the land.

Miller recently used $100,000 from the Plague Remediation Revolving Loan Fund to purchase the remaining home from Woodard’s heirs on 1.77 acres on the property. The county agreed to a $750 monthly lease to give the former owner time to secure nearby living quarters and remove her belongings.

In August, district commissioners approved up to $1.9 million in SPLOST funds to purchase adjacent properties and improve the park.

As commissioners loaded up bug spray to board golf carts and utility vehicles for the recent tour, County Manager Keith Moffett spoke about plans for Cliffview Lake Park.

“Our goal is a passive range,” Moffett said. “This is a walking area that could be walking trails, things like that. With concrete and all that, I don’t expect us to do any sidewalks here. Make it a nature trail.”

Moffett said they are evaluating how many fences need to be put up because of the deep cliff that falls onto the property behind neighboring homes.

SPLOST project manager Clay Murphey said the property was used as an old drill pit where soil was dug and removed.

Mayor Pro Tem Seth Clark led the entourage off the newly cleared path, through cobwebs and up a hill to get a better vantage point of the lake and its rising cliffs.

Upon seeing an empty swimming pool at Old Woodard Place, Clark jokingly asked the mayor if the borough had enough lifeguards to staff it.

Miller said he envisions youth from 4-H and Scouting touring the country and enjoying this oasis of natural beauty outside of downtown.

Discarded beer cans near the lake show that the hidden stash and fishing hole is no absolute secret.

A bass jumped out of the water as the mayor discussed plans for a possible pavilion and rustic campgrounds with commissioners.

During the commission’s previous tour in 2016, the facility manager at the time said water and sewer lines ran across the country, which could make future toilets possible.

Nearly 20 years after Georgia’s green space investment, Cliffview Lake Park is taking shape, which pleases Ellis.

“I’m glad Mayor Miller made this a priority because it’s for the people,” Ellis said. “And it just sat there and we could have vacated it a long time ago and people could have enjoyed it all those years.”

– Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Jarvis Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government agencies and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-957-2829.

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