BRASELTON — Friday was a busy but sad day for the visitors center at Mayfield Dairy Farms as more than 400 took their final tour of the facility.
The center, located on Ga. 124 just off Interstate 85 in Jackson County, has been busy all week as word of its impending closure spread.
The news has gotten national attention as Braselton officials appealed to the community to speak up for the center's future.
The plant itself, which operates three shifts processing 120 gallons of milk a minute, will remain in operation. It processes the majority of the milk served in school cafeterias in a 100-mile radius.
Al Underwood, the day's tour guide, said he was overwhelmed with the capacity crowd for the final tour.
"This is not the last tour of the day," he announced on the loud speaker. "This is the last tour."
There is hope, however, the visitor center may reopen.
The community response was heartwarming for center manager Dawn Thompson, who said the seven people currently working at the visitor center are like family.
The ice cream shop and gift shop will remain open through the end of October, though Thompson encouraged visitors to come while their favorite flavors of ice cream and sherbet remain.
One regular stood at the outside ordering window and yelled in, "You can't close!," as she prepared to place her order for a cone.
Thompson gets teary-eyed talking about the final tour day.
"We meet so many people who come in with their stories and we've prayed with so many," said Thompson, who said some visitors would send ice cream samples home to sick parents.
Melody Nunamaker, a homeschooling mother from Suwanee, brought her daughters Gabriella and Carissa and son Joshua for the tour Friday morning. She said a group of homeschoolers had planned to visit the center next week but the Nunamakers came on Friday after learning the tours were ending.
"The last time we were here, Joshua was a baby," Nunamaker said. On Friday Carissa toured before enjoying rainbow sherbet with Joshua; Gabriella opted for her favorite, chocolate.
"We've had people from China and Australia and from everywhere and we have some locals who bring their guests whenever they come to visit," Thompson said.
The plant produces up to 150,000 gallons of milk a day, and its giant refrigerator can hold 400,000 gallons of milk, Underwood told tourgoers Friday. Twenty tankers carrying 6,000 gallons each arrive at the plant daily, he added.
"We have some people who come in often and they say they are really going to miss it," Thompson said.