County joins fight for park closures

  • County joins fight for park closures
    County joins fight for park closures

Lumpkin joined 12 other North Georgia counties asking Gov. Brian Kemp to  “close down all state parks located in our area for the duration of the Statewide Shelter in Place Order,” according to a recent letter.
While U.S. Forest Service sites have been closed to the public, Kemp’s April 8 extended Shelter in Place Order did not agree with the counties’ plea. In his televised address he said people need a place to exercise, and people were observing social distancing at beaches and state parks.
According to Habersham County Commissioner Tim Stamey, who first contacted Lumpkin BOC Chairman Chris Dockery, his county has been “covered up,” and “State Parks, lodging and campgrounds are … packed with Atlantans and surrounding states that have closed their parks. Unicoi State Park that is eight miles west of my house is offering Spring Break Packages through the end of April at 20 percent off.”
The influx of people from hot spots for COVID-19 such as Atlanta has been a concern of the Lumpkin County Commission for several weeks. Just prior to the governor announcing his Statewide Shelter in Place Order commissioners decided to close Yahoola Creek Park to out-of-county residents in an effort to slow the surge of visitors.
“The goal is to hinder folks with more exposure from coming up to this area,” said County Manager Stan Kelley. “We won’t know until later if it has a positive impact.”
Since the governor’s order—and clarification that county-owned property remains under the control of local government—the park was closed to everyone, as is the reservoir trail.
But it’s not just outsiders going to parks in Lumpkin. It’s those “traveling through on their way to state parks close by,” Dockery said. “They stop in our stores, get gas, buy snacks. If they would shelter in place in their own communities it would slow the spread of the virus.”
Many pass through Lumpkin on their way to Amicalola State Park in Dawson County, Smithgall Woods and Unicoi in White County.
Commissioner Bobby Mayfield said Amicalola was “slammed” when the Shelter in Place Order first went into effect.
“I drove around last weekend,” he told The Nugget Monday, “around town, out to Amicalola. There were much smaller numbers this week than last. I think the word is getting around about sheltering in place.”
Something else that might have helped was the governor’s order to cancel short-term rentals—although not motels/hotels.
Commissioner Rhett Stringer appreciates the governor’s move but said, “I’m disappointed with the decision on state parks when the Feds, most cities and counties have their [parks] closed. It just keeps us from having a unified front.”
Counties signing off on the letter include Lumpkin, Habersham, Towns, White, Rabun, Franklin, Gilmer, Wade, Fannin, Stephens, Union and Banks.