Control of the 282-acre Camp Frank D. Merrill in Lumpkin County transfers Wednesday to the Army from the U.S. Forest Service — a move not expected to affect recreational access.
“Any roads … that currently provide public access will not change at this time,” states a joint press release.
“Should any road reroutes be necessary in the future, the Army is required to do so in a way that allows for continued national forest access.”
Outdoor activities, such as fishing, will continue to be allowed as long as the user has the proper Georgia permits and licenses.
Also, the Army doesn’t plan to install a fence around the camp, which is home to mountaineering training for the U.S. Army Ranger School.
“The only barriers that exist are at the entrance and along several other points that lead directly onto Camp Merrill,” the release said.
“In the event that there is an increase in force protection or terror threat level, Camp Merrill will place barriers on entrance points as necessary to provide adequate protection to personnel and facilities on the camp.”
However, “as the threat level decreases and force protection is reduced, those barriers would be removed.”
The release continued: “If, in the future, a fence is placed around Camp Merrill, then a bypass road will be built to allow access to areas of the National Forest that were previously only accessible through Camp Merrill.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has pushed for the transfer since shortly after taking office in 2013.
Collins has said the land transfer gives the Army the opportunity to make improvements at the aging camp “without the bureaucratic regulation” of two federal departments.
“This is just an example where — nothing personal with the Forest Service — but their lease and control over an Army facility like that was raising safety and cost concerns,” Collins said. “And there was no need to have it under the lease agreement like it was when the Army has done such a great job of maintaining and restoring the property.”
Congress ended up transferring the land as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.
In an emailed statement last week, Collins said, “It’s great that we’re finally seeing this resolved, after 20 years of going back and forth over who is responsible for the land.
“This move will save taxpayers money by reducing redundant, costly oversight and the amount of government red tape.”
The 5th Ranger Training Battalion and Camp Merrill “look forward to a continued relationship with the Forest Service while maintaining good stewardship of the land within Camp Merrill and the surrounding National Forest where we train,” said Lt. Col. Clayton Meals, the 5th Ranger Training Battalion Commander.
Betty Jewett, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests supervisor, said, “The Forest Service has a long history of working cooperatively with the Army at Camp Merrill.
“We are proud to partner with the military and look forward to continuing to work cooperatively here in Georgia.”