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Don Carter could pump $46 million-plus into Hall economy

POSTED: July 14, 2013 12:09 a.m.

The new Don Carter State Park will offer area residents another recreational spot on Lake Lanier, but it could also be an economic blessing for Hall County.

The 1,316-acre park, opening Monday at 5000 N. Browning Bridge Road, off Clarks Bridge Road in North Hall, can be compared to the 1,776-acre Red Top Mountain State Park near Cartersville, said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ State Parks & Historic Sites.

If that holds true, it’s good news for Hall’s first state park.

Red Top draws more than 700,000 visitors annually to Lake Allatoona for boating, fishing, hiking and camping. Allatoona, like Lanier, is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

And visitors spend more than $46 million in the surrounding community, “making the park a critical component of the local economy,” Hatcher said.

“It is estimated that this tourism supports more than 500 local jobs. Because of the similarities of these two parks, we expect Don Carter will also generate more than $46 million for the Gainesville-area economy.”

The park was financed by a $14 million bond package, with construction costs running about $11.5 million.

It will offer camping, boat ramps, fishing, picnicking, playgrounds, hiking and a large swimming beach.

First-day events include a ranger-led half-mile hike starting at 10:30 a.m. at the trailhead parking area, a snake program at 11:30 a.m. at Picnic Shelter 2 and games such as ladder golf, bag toss and croquet at the beach.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming guests ... and are hoping for beautiful weather,” Hatcher said.

The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service.

Eight rental cabins are slated to open later this summer. The two-bedroom cabins are perched on wooded hillsides near the lake, with rocking-chair porches and fully equipped kitchens.

Don Carter is also the first state park on Lanier, which has a privately operated resort, Lake Lanier Islands, and day-use parks and campgrounds operated by the corps and local governments.

“It’s a long overdue nod to the awesome recreation and natural beauty of our lake,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“The addition of camping and lodging (cabins) has been greatly anticipated for the northern shore. There are very limited lodging options on the north end of the lake.”

Plus, the park’s closeness to the 1996 Olympic venue on Clarks Bridge Road “will be a bonus for athletes coming to train and compete on our water,” Dickson said.

She envisions those athletes staying at the park and paddling to the venue for workouts.

“We expect the new Don Carter State Park to be a real jewel in the DNR’s crown,” Dickson said.

Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the park is “something we’ve been anticipating and looking forward to for a long time.

“I just think it will be a great asset to Hall County, but also to all of North Georgia and (the state). It only adds to our tourism and lake activities.”

She also believes it will only benefit the Olympic venue.

Different groups, as well as government officials, are interested in restoring that site. Major renovations, including work on the maintenance building, boathouse and docks, have been estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.9 million.

The state park project dates to 1994, when the state began buying property there, said retired DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett.

“We always felt like since there was no other traditional state park on Lake Lanier ... this would be a really good and popular park,” he said.

“We also liked the location of it. We felt like that, given the Olympics and ... the resource at Clarks Bridge already, it would be a wonderful place to put in a state park. Then, canoes could come down (the lake), possibly setting up some good opportunities there.”

In 2002, Barrett announced the naming of the park for Gainesville real estate executive Don Carter during a DNR board meeting at Lake Lanier Islands. Carter was stepping down from the board after 29 years, which Barrett believes may be a longevity record for “any board in state government.”

The naming also seemed appropriate “given all that he had done at DNR, serving as our chairman and having been involved in land acquisition and wildlife resources programs, and always opening his personal property for people to come and use for business and recreational activities,” Barrett said.

“Don Carter is one of the most selfless, generous people I’ve ever known,” he added.

Dunlap said the park’s name is a fitting tribute to Carter “and his long service to this community.”

Dickson said: “Mr. Carter should be very pleased with the legacy this park promises through creating memories for families on the shores of Lake Lanier.”

In an email last week, Carter said he appreciated the efforts of state and local officials in bringing the park to Hall County.

As part of the project, the county has worked to pave what was a narrow, dirt-packed section of North Browning from Browning Place to the park entrance and resurface North Browning from Browning Place to Clarks Bridge Road.

“As a lifelong lover of the outdoors, it is my hope that many generations will come and visit the park and enjoy the many recreational opportunities it will provide,” Carter said.

“It has been a humbling experience to have it named in my honor when so many others are deserving of recognition for bringing this park to fruition.”

State officials are planning a grand opening ceremony for this fall.

“The date has to be set based on the mutual availability of the Carters and the governor (Nathan Deal),” said Dickson, whose organization is planning the event with the DNR.

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