At a time when many local residents are looking for more recreational options, letting all of Dawson County’s Lake Lanier parks stay open for use throughout the year sounded like a “win-win” to Board of Commissioners chairman Billy Thurmond Thursday night.
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On May 18, the board unanimously voted to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for management of three lakeside parks located in Dawson County.
Now, the county will move forward with Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne’s request to enter into the new lease agreement for Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek and Toto Creek parks.
Payne presented the proposal during the BOC’s May 4 work session.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines previously mused that Dawson County could be among “
the first in the United States” to go along with the Corps’ new lease agreement process.
After the board’s vote Thursday, Payne added his department could move forward with next steps “as soon as tomorrow morning” by notifying the Corps about the county’s decision and then planning to meet with them in the near future to finalize the details.
“By early to mid-summer, we will have our hands in all three of those parks,” Payne said. “We’ll bring the maintenance back to where [it] needs to be. We’ll put some love back into those parks, and [then] we’ll start programming out there.”
A closure of the three lakeside parks this past winter caused a stir among Dawson-area residents.
“What started this,” Gaines said on May 4, “was that the Corps was forced to close parks they wouldn't normally close. Citizens, they are concerned…[so] this gives us more local control to leave those open year round if we decide to.”
Under the agreement, the county would be responsible for light maintenance such as cutting the grass, maintaining campsites at Toto Creek Park, cleaning park bathrooms and other overall upkeep functions, Payne said on May 4.
Meanwhile, the Corps would be responsible for replacing faulty bathrooms, or fixing potholes and managing utilities. The tri-park lease would be a five-year agreement allowing for re-negotiation after two years.
Dawson County would be able to keep user and campsite fees under the new terms, so more of that money would be going back to Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek and Toto Creek parks, Payne added at the previous work session.
Other suggestions included four digital fee charging stations, a truck and trailer and signage. In terms of personnel, Payne tentatively suggested hiring an additional full-time maintenance worker and a full-time person to lead what would be a newly-created outdoor activities or lake parks division of his department.
Dawson County is currently 13 years into a 25-year joint lease with the Corps for War Hill Park.
A cooperative lease for the three other parks, as opposed to a joint lease, would help eliminate a lot of the red tape and get projects done quicker, since the county would be dealing with the Corps directly, Payne told the board on May 4.
Citing the Corps’ intent to continue that joint lease as is, Payne added on May 4 that the agreement over War Hill Park is not expected to change. The county is still going through a process to update War Hill Park’s master plan, details for which are now available on Dawson County’s website.
During the board’s May 4 meeting, District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley also clarified with Gaines that the county wouldn’t bear financial responsibility for master plans for Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek and Toto Creek parks.
At that meeting, Gaines also pointed out how a cooperative agreement would “expedite” any intended park changes in parks’ master plans and added that having attractive lakeside parks helps continue a “macro-level trickle-down” type of cycle where people stop at area businesses to spend money on their way to and from the lake.
“I know that Matt [Payne] has put a lot of time, effort and energy into this, and it’s been a community issue that had come up last year,” Gaines said on May 18. “This is one of those issues that it's good to find a good solution to, and it doesn't happen like this all the time.”
“This still allows us to use Corps resources and for us to have control of the parks,” Dooley added, “so I think this’ll be a benefit.”