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Tree Removal At Park Stirs Controversy
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Tree

Tree-cutting crews taking down 18 trees in War Hill Park in DawsonCounty last week has sparked questions and concerns from citizens about a lack of public input, cost, and the need to cut them down.

They rushed to do this, and I think the parks and recreation folks owe an explanation to the taxpayers, who are funding this, Jane Graves, president of the Dawson County Homeowners Association, said. People arent calling Lisa Henson to complain -- theyre calling me. Ive heard from several people.

Henson is director of Dawson County Parks and Recreation, and says she had received complaints from campers about the trees being in their way.

Complaints were lodged with me via phone calls and personal contacts over the past 3-4 years, Henson said in an email to theDawson News & Advertiser. (There were)issues with some campers not being able to open their slides in some of the sites due to trees obstructing the site, and also those campers who had extreme difficulty with ingress and egress to some of the sites when pulling campers.

Henson added that she did not know the exact number of complaints, but that they were numerous.

The county, which has a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage and maintain its campground and park, received approval in early March to take down the trees.

Given that you have just a few trees to cut and that those trees are adversely impacting the operational area of the campsites, you may go ahead and remove the referenced trees, Nicholas Baguette, natural resource manager with the corps, wrote in a March 5 email to Henson.

BOARD MEMBERS RESPOND

That email was forwarded to the parks and recreations five board members on Monday, March 16.

Three members agreed the trees should be taken down, and two were unable to respond.

The next day, March 17, a purchase order for $5,495 was executed by the county and given to Superior Arbor Management of Dawsonville.

Multiple trees had been cut down at the park by Wednesday, March 25.

Per our purchasing policy, expenditures of this amount do not meet the threshold for formal bids, Henson wrote. These expenditures do, however, require three informal quotes be obtained.

It is not clear what other two companies submitted bids.

What I dont understand is why there was such a hurry to do this, Graves said. Is it a question of (the park) wanting to charge more money to get bigger vehicles? What is the reason to chop down perfectly good trees and not replace them in some way to shade the campsites?

Board members were emailed pictures of each campsite and the trees recommended for removal, and asked for their response.

I think this is a non-issue. ... Proceed! wrote Board Member Tony Keller.

Chad Cofield also agreed.

I wouldnt mind if more were removed, Cofield wrote. Campers are getting bigger. .

Board Member Heather Tierney was also in favor.

Everything looks great to me. Carry on! Tierney wrote in an email.

Two board members Warren King and Spencer Wright were unable to respond.

I was out of the country, King said. I have the email in my system, but I think at this point it doesnt matter if I respond.King did not respond to a message asking which way he would have voted.

The board makes recommendations to park leadership but has no decision-making capabilities on the matter, according to County Manager Cindy Campbell.

All trees cut down will be used for firewood at no cost to campers or mulched for use at the park.

My biggest concern with all this, Graves said, is that when the park was originally built by the corps, it was for much smaller vehicles and tents. When did the long-term plan change, and why didnt the taxpayers know about it?

War Hill Park is located on Lake Lanier, off Highway 53, and consists of 14 primitive campsites, day-use areas, and four boat ramps.

The park is scheduled to open to the publicMarch 28, according to the Dawson County website.

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