As residents of an area that prides itself on recreation, members on the Board of Commissioners were eager for Dawson County to cash in on the multi-billion dollar industry of glamping during their sessions Thursday, Nov. 18.
The BOC voted in favor of the Parks and Recreation Department putting out a bidding request for six glamping, or luxury camping, sites at War Hill Park, located in southeastern Dawson County at the edge of Lake Lanier.
Glamping entails access to both outdoor recreational resources and comforts like beds, mini-fridges, air conditioning and heating, in contrast to traditional camping amenities.
Per the request for proposal, another company would offer glamping services to visitors at War Hill Park.
Commissioner Chris Gaines commented that despite existing options near the lake and Amicalola Falls, the county doesn’t really have a good offering of campgrounds.
“It meets a big need,” Gaines said of the glamping idea. “It gets people that maybe have no desire to come up and spend the night in the woods to come and spend the night in the woods.”
The Timberlane Glamping Company, run by Nathan and Rebeka Self, approached the county with the luxury camping prospect in September. Per procedure, though, the county still has to put out the bidding request so multiple companies can bid on the project.
During his presentation, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne shared that the glamping market was at least $2.35 billion in the United States.
Nathan Self said the market is expected to grow even bigger, with Kampgrounds of America’s research projecting glamping’s growth into a $25 billion industry just by 2025.
“This [camping style] isn't going anywhere, and they (KOA) have pointed at the numbers at what new campers are preferring,” said Self, “and those are very accurate numbers.”
Matt Payne said that the luxury tents will be split into two main groups and be the closest sites to the park’s bath house.
The company that gets the bid will be responsible for constructing tents, maintaining them and all related equipment. That company will also advertise tent availability and book reservations separate from the county website.
Hotel-motel tax will also be collected. General campground maintenance, like plumbing, will be handled by the county. Only electricity would be going to the glamping sites.
Gaines asked about the company’s success at other locations, one of which is at Forsyth County’s Shady Grove Campground off of Lake Lanier.
Since May 2020, those glamping sites have been booked at 100 percent, underscoring the supply and demand, Self said.
Self added that companies like he and his wife’s aim to be zero-footprint and provide amenities like the fridges, A/C, and rugs. A key to Timberlane’s success has been partnering with other local small businesses to offer additional services, like farm-fresh eggs.
Tents are lockable, so theft has seldom been a problem for his company, Self added.
After a scheduled public hearing, the BOC also adopted a resolution for a county Greenway and Trail Master Plan.
The Planning Department’s Robert Irving presented the plan in October. The Development Authority of Dawson County contracted with engineering and design firm Thomas and Hutton, who created the schematics.
The plan detailed 19.6 miles of trails, mainly in the southeastern portion of the county.
Six points of interest along the network would be the North Georgia Premium Outlets mall, Dawson Forest, Thompson Creek Park, Etowah River, Rock Creek Park and the future Russell Creek Reservoir.
Those points of interest would have six corresponding trail segments featuring sidewalks and paths that correspond to various topographies either closer or farther from roadways.
The projected price tag is $60 million, so funding will have to come from several different local, state and federal sources over time.
The county could help with advising developers so pieces can be added sequentially, Irving said.
Gaines commented that while the plan was ambitious, the county would have to “start at some point” and “take the first step.”
During the Nov. 18 work session, Brooke Anderson from the Rotary Club of Dawson County presented the commissioners with a plan to enhance River Park with the addition of a butterfly garden.
“One of the themes of Rotary this year is protecting the environment, so we wanted to develop a project that provided some environmental education,” Anderson said.
Over the last several years, Anderson said the club has done several projects in conjunction with Parks and Recreation, such as a splash pad, pickleball and basketball courts and batting cages.
In full, the Rotary Club would like to build and install a new picnic pavilion, butterfly and pollinator education garden, butterfly sculpture and environmental education signs.
Anderson detailed the club’s plans of duplicating the current pavilion at River Park and adding picnic tables under and around it.
The garden would likely be about 30 feet by 30 feet, filled with flora and fauna to attract pollinators, boulders, mulch and educational signs. The club also wants to place a large butterfly sculpture to mark the park
The project’s anticipated cost is $20,000. If it moves forward, the Rotary Club plans to complete the project by the end of February, just in time for spring.
Because the park area can flood, Anderson added that the pavilion will likely be metal and that the club also plans to return annually to repair features and replace plants.
“You had me at ‘butterfly,’” Commissioner Sharon Fausett said of the project idea. “Anything environmental like that, I love it.”
Commissioner Tim Satterfield thanked Anderson for his group’s previous civic efforts and praised their drive to serve.
“Your group, they’re good stewards of this county,” Satterfield said. “When y’all put your mind to something, you do it.”