Several precautions are being taken for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests to prevent large gatherings on trails and in campsites in Northeast Georgia.
Forest Service announced Thursday evening it would temporarily close all recreation sites in the Blue Ridge Ranger District, shutting down dispersed camping corridors, day-use areas and trailhead facilities across Fannin, Union, Lumpkin and Towns counties.
Forest Service had already closed all national forest developed campgrounds, group recreation sites, picnic pavilions and restrooms, as well as all Appalachian Trail trailheads.
“We continually consult with local leaders in our communities, in order to be in alignment with local decisions that protect human health and safety,” said Edward Hunter, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests’ acting forest supervisor. “The health and safety of our employees and the public remain top priority.”
The decision comes less than a week after hikers crowded the trails and other recreation sites last weekend despite the fact facilities had been shut down.
“Large gatherings of visitors continue to congregate in dispersed camping corridors, day-use areas and trailheads,” said Forest Service public affairs officer Steven Bekkerus via email. “This level of public use and non-essential travel is outside the current CDC guidelines.”
Bekkerus said the Forest Service has been consulting several different organizations about enforcement of the regulations, including county sheriff’s departments, county emergency managers and state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Bob Ingram, chief deputy for the White County Sheriff’s Office, said the department has put barricades as well as no parking signs at trailheads in an effort to assist Forest Service in keeping trails clear, adding that unattended vehicles in no parking areas will be towed
He said crowding at trails has been less of a problem during the week, but that the weekend would provide a better gauge of how well enforcement measures are working.
“A good judge of that is going to be this weekend,” he said. “Last weekend it was a problem. As a result of that, we put up the barricades and no parking signs. So this weekend will tell that story and I think give us a better idea.”
Bekkerus said the Forest Service would also have an eye on the crowds as it decides whether or not further action will have to be taken.
“We continue to make risk assessments at recreation sites across the entire national forest and will take all actions deemed necessary,” Bekkerus said. “The health and safety of our employees and the public remain our top priority.”