For the first time in a long time, campers will be able to set up on the shores of Lake Lanier this winter.
Sawnee Campground, off Buford Dam Road in eastern Forsyth County, will remain open until March 24, according to Park Ranger Andrea Wagner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s been quite some time since the corps had a campground open during the winter,” Wagner said. “So that’s kind of exciting.”
The corps opened Sawnee Campground to give visitors a chance to enjoy the outdoors past the usual campground closing date in early September.
“Going through the fall there’s still a ton of gorgeous weather, so we wanted to make sure we had a campground for people to enjoy the fall and spring weather,” Wagner said. “We just wanted to have an option for people to come to.”
The campground is self-serve and operates its 60 sites on a first-come-first-served basis.
“Basically, you get there and there’s an honor vault (at the registration station),” Wagner said. Campers can pick a site, fill out the form, pay and get a tag to hang on their site.
“So there’s not reservations being made,” Wagner said. “You just come up and see what sites are available and what site works for you.”
Fees, rules, regulations and maps of the park and lake can also be found at the registration station.
The gatehouse at the campground is not staffed, but park hosts, rangers and county officials do rounds throughout the day so the area is “patrolled quite regularly,” Wagner said.
Sawnee Campground is not for day use.
“In the campground it’s camping only, however there are several day-use parks nearby,” Wagner said. “You can camp for one night or up to 14 days in a 30-day period.”
Entry and exit gates to the campground lock at 10:30 p.m. and reopen at 7 a.m. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited in all parks, Wagner said.
Sawnee Campground has a range of campsites from primitive ones to some with electricity and water hookups.
Wagner said camping in the winter months is still popular.
“It’s not obviously as popular with tent campers, but a lot of people that have RVs enjoy it because it’s peaceful,” she said. “And even in a tent, if you’re prepared for the weather, it can be a really enjoyable experience.”
The corps is looking at how popular the campground may be this year to determine whether to keep it open in the future.
“Right now we’re using this as a test campground to see how it goes,” Wagner said. “We’re hoping to have this open the same way next year.”
A discussion about opening more campgrounds during the colder months has not been started, but it’s “not out of the realm of possibilities,” Wagner said.
Sawnee Campground will close March 24 for two weeks to prepare for the summer recreation season. It will reopen with normal operations on April 11.