Jack Warbington is a go-getter. A community institution. A giver. An honest-to-goodness steward of the land.
“I believe it all belongs to God, and we’re just stewards of it,” said the 68-year-old, whose 650 acres of timber in Sumter County’s Boyd community includes a beautifully landscaped arboretum in his and wife Susan’s backyard.
Warbington’s property – like the man himself – is a gem, an ideal TREASURE (timber, recreation, environment, aesthetics, sustainable, usable, resources). He takes to heart the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association (ATFA) motto, “Taking the land God loaned us and making Him proud He did.”
Last October, the Warbingtons received the Gary Fortenberry Partnership Award for Alabama’s Southwest Region at ATFA’s annual meeting, where they were recognized for work hosting Sumter County Classroom In The Forest, which educates fifth graders on forest stewardship.
Warbington grew up in Choctaw County surrounded by forestry. A summer job at Allison Lumber Co. led to full-time employment after graduating from Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama.
He worked first in manufacturing and then accounting, where he and two business partners formed Automated Accounting System, Inc. in 1978. Their Forest Products Accounting system is procurement software used nationwide for the forest products industry.
Warbington spent years traveling across the Southeast for work. Now, whenever the semi-retiree is in town, he prefers to pass the days outdoors.
“I just enjoy being outside,” said Warbington, Sumter County TREASURE Forest president. “Some days when it’s 20 degrees and the wind is blowing, I’d rather stay inside, but the summer doesn’t really get too hot to keep me in.”
The Warbingtons began landscaping their property in 1999 when they converted a horse barn to a picnic area. They annually host a Walk Through The Garden and continually add shrubs, flowers, trees and bluebird boxes to their land.
“Even though Susan might not be out with me picking up sticks, we do all of it ourselves,” said Warbington. Susan owns Dogwood Florist and Gifts and Dogwood Clothier in Livingston.
Their arboretum is flush with daylilies, hydrangeas, elephant ears, banana plants and more. Winding paths – some made from concrete salvaged from Livingston’s sidewalk repair project – lead to a swing, spring-fed pond and chicken coop.
The Warbingtons have hosted Classroom In The Forest five years, and the impact hands-on, outdoor learning about landownership has on students is undeniable, said Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s David Perry.
“Mr. Warbington is always glad to work with us and provide a place for the kids,” said Perry, Sumter County 4-H regional coordinator. “When we find someone like that, we try to hold on to them.”
Last year, about 100 students visited stations about waste water management, unmanned aerial vehicles, wildlife and tree management.
“We’re informing the kids that there’s nothing wrong with cutting a tree,” Warbington said. “They often hear about the timber industry destroying the forest, and we show them a different story.”
A quiet man, Warbington would tell anyone he doesn’t love public speaking, but Perry said he obviously takes pride in his work.
“As I got to know him and saw all he was involved in within Sumter County, I realized how much he cares about people,” Perry said.
Warbington’s timber tracts consist of loblolly pines, hardwood bottoms and some longleaf pines, with abundant deer, wild turkey and duck populations.
Keeping fire lines pushed, maintaining roads, prescribed burning on a three-year rotation and managing herbicide release are a few practices used to keep the property healthy. Warbington said he joined ATFA because it promotes hands-on management practices.
ATFA Resource Coordinator William Green said the organization is fortunate to have a model steward and forest educator like Warbington.
“We’re grateful not only for his leadership at the county level, but also for the example he sets for fellow landowners,” said Green. “He truly believes in managing his property for multiple uses, from timber production to bluebird houses.”
But Warbington doesn’t spend all his time working the land. He and Susan are active members at Livingston First Baptist Church, and he serves his community as president of the Boyd Barbecue Club and Boyd Cemetery Association. He’s also on Sumter County Water Authority’s board of directors. He’s passing on life lessons to his grandchildren, Logan and Katherine Lee Bishop, teaching them to care for and conserve the land.
“He’s the hardest working person I know,” said Logan. “Some of the most memorable times of my life have come from planting food plots, helping with prescribed burns and planting fruit and nut trees for no reason other than improving the habitat for wildlife.”
Warbington doesn’t bask in the beauty and glory of his forest. He’s constantly giving back to others and preparing the land for future generations.
“It’s all a work in progress, just like life,” he said.