CLAY COUNTY, GA (WALB) – Over the years, many of you have made memories at George Bagby State Park in Fort Gaines.
But now state budget cutbacks are threatening to make the park itself a memory. And that saddens long-time residents of Clay County.
[CG at 0:07:NameJames Edgar ColemanClay County Resident]
[CG at 0:23:NameAnnette HollandBagby State Park Manager]
[CG at 0:48:NameTrey AndersonClay Co. Development Authority]
[CG at 0:51:NameJay PolkReporting]
[CG at 1:00:NameChris ClarkDept. of Natural Resources Commissioner]
Like James Coleman. It was a long time ago now, but he remembers the humble beginnings of George Bagby State Park like it was yesterday.
"The original plans from the Corps of Engineers called for an interpretive center to be built," he said.
Over the years, the park kept growing until today, where there is a 700 acre spread with plenty to offer. Annette Holland, the Park Manager talks about it's best known feature, its lodge with "60 guest rooms which includes two suites, two junior suites."
The park has plenty of other features as well.
"Hiking trails. We have a marina and store where you can bring your boat. You can let it stay the night, or let it stay forever," said Holland.
Where else in Georgia can you literally look back in time? Across the lake is Alabama...and a short ride on your boat would take you into the Central Time Zone. Today, the park is an important part of Clay County.
"The economic heart of our community," according to Trey Anderson, from the Clay County Development Authority.
Georgia State Parks promote an easygoing lifestyle, and it certainly is easygoing here. But with tight budgets these days, it's been anything but easy for the park system.
The budget for state parks is going through the same belt tightening as other departments.
Chris Clark, the Comissioner of the Department of Natural Resources said, "if you look at where DNR was at in '08 and where were going to be at in '11, it's about a 35% decrease in our state budget."
Thursday, officials from the DNR were at the park to host a meeting with staff and the community. To the relief of the nearly 100 people in the room, Commissioner Clark wasn't coming with a hatchet. Instead he asked for help in the form of volunteer programs. And he said that DNR will do it's part to drive people to the parks.
"You'll see us doing a lot of different promotions," Clark said.
Residents and park workers seemed relieved, and many were determined to do what it takes to keep the park open. Because closing the park and letting go of its nearly 30 employees would mean a significant blow to Clay County's economy.
"If you kind of factor that into the Clay County numbers, that would increase our rate to 13 per cent or more," said Anderson.
But everyone here knows that today's reprieve is only temporary. Now they're hoping that more people will discover this jewel of South Georgia, before it's luster fades away forever.
For more information about the park you can go to their website.