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Corps keeps Lumpkin County dog park on hold

Supporters still waiting approval for leash-free area along Chestatee River

POSTED: July 19, 2013 11:48 p.m.

Mike Warlick, with Midas, and Sandy Steele talk Tuesday about the problems and hopes for the Dahlonega Dog Park on the banks of the Chestatee River.

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The dogs will stay on their leashes in Lumpkin County, at least for now.

Some county residents have been clamoring for an off-leash dog park near Dahlonega since 2007. Despite being approved by the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners in 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, have called for additional environmental impact assessments before the park can be built.

“This dog park will help bring Lumpkin County into the 21st century,” said John Raber, chairman of the board when the proposal was approved.

“I have full faith in the group behind it and I think it will be highly beneficial to Lumpkin County.”

The proposed park would be located off of South Chestatee Road near Ga. 400 by the Chestatee River, 5 miles from the center of Dahlonega. It will include separate fenced areas for small and large dogs as well as a picnic table and a couple of benches. The park would cover roughly 2 acres.

“This is multimillion-dollar property that is just going to waste right now,” said Sandy Steele, president of the nonprofit organization behind the project, GOLD Dog Park Inc.

The major challenge to the park is approval from the Corps of Engineers, which is currently waiting for a revised environmental assessment to address issues such as drainage, dog feces and the impact of the park on local plants and wildlife.

“As always we’re concerned about the environment,” corps spokeswoman Lisa Parker said. “That’s the purpose of the Environmental assessment. You always have primary, secondary and tertiary effects on the environment and we have to see what those are.”

An environmental assessment is required by the National Environmental Policy Act before the corps can authorize the use of their land for development. If the assessment calls for it, the corps could require a much more extensive study, called an Environmental Impact Statement.

It typically takes the corps six to nine months to process the environmental assessments, Parker said.

The dog park organizers claim the park will not significantly impact the environment and that the corps is needlessly interfering with their project.

“Really, the assessment wasn’t even necessary. Nothing has changed environmentally,” Steele said. “I honestly believe the Army Corps fails to see the sociological and economic importance of a dog park to local families.”

The organization claims a dog park will attract tourists, benefit the local real estate, promote interaction among county residents and provide a safe area for dog to exercise.

“In Lumpkin County, we do not have a lot of industry. So what we have to look at is recreation and tourism,” said dog park organizer Mike Warlick. “A dog park attracts people to the area and those people spend money at local businesses and visit local attractions.”

GOLD Dog Park Inc. was established in 2008 and immediately began pushing for a dog park in Lumpkin County. It took three years and a 1,500-signature petition before the board of commissioners approved the proposal.

The park is to be funded entirely through donations and built by volunteers. The organization behind it will operate the park while running periodical fundraisers to pay for maintenance.


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