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Leaf watchers may see red with federal park closings

POSTED: October 8, 2013 1:15 a.m.
/Times file photo

Lake Winfield Scott is one of many National Forest Service recreation areas that are closed due to the government shutdown.

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Fall is North Georgia’s time to shine, but the federal government shutdown is putting a serious hurt on outdoor activities.

The Hall County area is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks, all shuttered until the budget shutdown ends.

The Gainesville-based Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, which spans the region, manages dozens of recreation areas, including Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center, Anna Ruby Falls, Lake Winfield Scott, Dukes Creek Falls, Lake Rabun Beach, Lake Russell, Mount Yonah Trail Head, Panther Creek and Tallulah River Campground.

On Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation said it had closed Ga. 180 Spur, the lone road to reach Brasstown Bald and day-use parking in Towns County, at the request of the Forest Service.

There are “no businesses or homes along the roadway,” states a DOT news release. “The road is routinely closed during the winter due to snow and ice.”

Brasstown Bald, at 4,784 feet above sea level, is Georgia’s highest mountain.

The visitor center, which is on the summit, features 8,000 square feet of exhibits, video presentations and interpretive programs. The recreation area also features hiking trails and picnic spots.

Because of the shutdown, the sale of permits — such as those for recreation, firewood, forest products and mineral materials — are suspended, as well as reservations, according to the Forest Service website.

Judy Toppins, spokeswoman for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, declined comment, deferring to the agency’s website.

“Law enforcement, fire suppression and other essential services will continue without interruption,” the website states.

The shutdown has affected 34 day-use parks on Lake Lanier, which are operated by the corps.

Normally, 20 of the parks are operated year-round, according to the corps’ Lanier website.

The corps “understands the impacts that these actions will have on the American recreating public if we are required to close our recreation areas,” said Lisa Parker, corps spokeswoman with the Mobile, Ala., District.

“We know that this is a time of year when many vacationing families are using or planning to use (corps) recreation facilities, and we will reopen them for public use and enjoyment as quickly as possible once the government shutdown is lifted.”

The shutdown comes at a time when many of North Georgia’s leaves are changing, and weather watchers are calling for a colorful season thanks to a wet summer.

“This year, it looks like everything is right on track as to when the leaves are supposed to be turning,” said Vaughn Smith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Hall area is fortunate to have “several county parks and the (Lake Lanier) Islands Resort to fall back on. Other corps areas are not so lucky.”

The postponement of the annual Lanier Public Safety Workers Appreciation Luncheon, sponsored by the corps and CVB, was “the most regrettable event to happen so far (on the lake) due to the federal shutdown,” Dickson said.

“We hope the shutdown (ends) in time to still host this event ... before the weather gets too cold,” she added. “If not, we’ll find a place indoors to honor these most important heroes.

“Otherwise, it’s business as usual on Lake Lanier. We’re definitely not shut down."


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