Update, May 22: All the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ day-use parks, except for Buford Dam Park, are set to reopen Saturday, May, 23, according to Chief Ranger Chris Arthur. However, beaches, shelters, campgrounds and playgrounds will remain closed.
Update, May 21: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced May 21 that many of its day-use parks at several recreation areas will begin re-opening Friday, May 22. That includes some on Lake Lanier, but additional information about which parks that includes wasn't immediately available .
Original article: Lake Lanier is usually a popular spot on Memorial Day weekend. With the coronavirus pandemic curtailing travel, some may be itching to celebrate the unofficial summer kickoff closer to home.
But as people prepare for the holiday weekend, Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, chair of Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Infection Prevention & Control Committee, suggests they take certain steps to enjoy their fun in the sun responsibly.
She recommends avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, wearing a mask around others, maintaining social distance of 6 feet from people, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands regularly, not sharing food or drinks and disinfecting surfaces.
“People who are sick, have chronic medical conditions, are elderly or are pregnant should stay home and isolate,” Mannepalli said.
Those in good health who do plan to venture to a park or body of water, have dozens of options around Lake Lanier, Gainesville and Hall County.
Gainesville City Parks
All of Gainesville’s parks are open during Memorial Day weekend.
However, Julie Butler Colombini, marketing and communications manager for Gainesville Parks & Recreation, said playgrounds, basketball courts and bathrooms will remain closed.
“We recommend that people maintain a social distance,” Colombini said. “Walking is great, fishing is good and tennis is good. The things that are closed are for a reason.”
Some of Gainesville’s lakeside parks include Clarks Bridge Park, Holly Park, Longwood Park, Lanier Point Park and Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
Go to gainesville.org/parks for a complete list of Gainesville parks and their locations.
For those wanting to reflect on local soldiers who sacrificed their lives serving in the military, Christina Santee, Gainesville City public relations manager, recommends visiting memorials at Rock Creek Veterans Park, which is located at 223 Northside Drive in Gainesville.
Hall County Parks
People can visit any of Hall’s parks during the holiday weekend, with the exception of River Forks Park, the only one with a beach.
Christine Cave, manager of River Forks Park & Campground, said the only ones with access to the space are RV campers.
“With as many people coming through the gates on Memorial Day, there would be no way to keep the social distancing,” Cave said.
River Forks Parks’ day use, tent camping and boat ramp areas will remain closed until June 12, which is when a reopening date will be reevaluated.
Becky Ruffner, marketing and public relations specialist for the county’s parks and leisure department, said people who visit the county’s parks should take note that all bathrooms, pavilions and playgrounds are closed.
“Other than that, we encourage people to get out on the trails and walk,” Ruffner said. “Take your dog to the dog park. Get out and throw the Frisbee and have a picnic. Just keep social distancing in mind.”
To view a list of Hall’s 25 parks and their locations, visit hallcounty.org/Facilities.
Corps of Engineers parks
Most of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers day-use parks and campgrounds are closed in Hall. However, 22 of its boat ramps around Lake Lanier are open, as of Tuesday, May 19.
People can find an updated list of the Corps of Engineers’ accessible recreation areas by visiting corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil/visitors/visitors.cfm, and selecting Lake Lanier.
Most of Georgia’s state parks and historic sites are open, including Don Carter State Park on Lanier.
Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, said designated swimming beaches remain open, while pools and splash pads are closed.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources requires visitors to keep at least 6 feet from others and not gather with more than 10 people.
Hatcher said Georgia’s state parks are working closely with DNR law enforcement to ensure people are following the protocols, including those on the beaches and trailheads.
Recently she said some of Georgia’s popular recreation spaces have experienced an overflow in parking capacity. When this happens, people may have restricted access for several hours.
Enforcement on Lanier
DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon said game wardens will continue patrolling for boaters under the influence, required safety gear and children under 13 wearing life jackets while also enforcing the ban on more than 10 people in a single location.
“The bottom line is they’ll be looking for large crowds on boats,” McKinnon said. “Particularly, if they see more than 10 people on the boat, they’re probably going to check it out.”
The goal, McKinnon said, is to have people be compliant with the guidelines, with arrests and citations as a last resort. About 15-20 DNR personnel will be patrolling Lanier over the weekend.
McKinnon previously told The Times those who do not comply can be charged with reckless conduct, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or 12 months jail incarceration.
McKinnon said they have mostly experienced people following the guidelines and have had few cases where people have been noncompliant. The spokesman could only recall one instance leading to an arrest.
Game wardens and DNR officers will be supplied with masks and gloves in case they need to make close contact with the public.
Times reporter Nick Watson contributed