Ronald Brown doesn’t just visit Don Carter State Park — he frequents it.
“This is my fishing hole,” said the Sautee man, his line cast off a pier at the park into Lake Lanier. “We come here about every weekend.”
Those are just the words officials like to hear as the 1,316-acre park wraps up its first year off North Browning Bridge Road in North Hall County.
The park attracted about 268,000 visitors as of June 30, end of the state’s fiscal year. The total was “a little bit higher than we anticipated, which is a great thing,” park manager Will Wagner said. “And that excludes us missing July Fourth last year.”
The park opened July 15, fulfilling plans that had been in place since 1994, when the state began buying property there.
In 2002, now-retired Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice Barrett announced the naming of the park for Gainesville real estate executive Don Carter, who was stepping down from the board after 29 years.
A formal dedication of the park, featuring Carter and his family, as well as Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, was held Sept. 16.
All in all, it’s been a smooth first year, Wagner said.
“With rangers constantly patrolling the park and the number of staff members and volunteers out on the park, we’re able to keep our eyes and ears on everything,” he said. “And it’s been a very family-friendly year, so we’re real pleased with that.”
The park features a visitor center, camping, fishing, picnicking, playgrounds, hiking, beach and trails, and eight rental cabins with rocking-chair porches and fully equipped kitchens.
“The cabins have been booked pretty much every weekend,” Wagner said. “Also, what’s been a nice surprise is we’ve seen a lot of weekday rentals. (The cabins have) probably been one of the more popular aspects of the park.”
Also, kayak rentals that opened on Memorial Day “have been very popular,” with 30 rentals in June, he said.
There have been some tweaks throughout the year, but nothing major.
“We’ve noticed that removing all the topsoil (in the day-use) area has made it hard for grass to grow, so possibly one of our first Friends project is ... really dressing that area up,” Wagner said.
Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, a Cartersville-based organization that aims to promote and preserve the state recreation areas, is working on developing a Don Carter chapter.
“They do a lot that the park in itself can’t do,” Wagner said. “Being a nonprofit (organization), they have the ability to apply for grants. They have a lot of members who are retired and have the time to seek grants, look for funding and generate their own funds.
“And what they do with that money are things that the park budget doesn’t allow. They can add a lot of character to the park. We build the skeleton; they put the soul into it.”
Moving into its second year, the park is developing a system of horse trails.
“We are soon getting to a flagging stage,” Wagner said. “Once (trails) get flagged, we can make adjustments, then comes a couple of surveys that need to be made.”
He also said he would like to raise awareness about the park’s interpretive programs, which are held nearly every weekend.
“I know a lot of people come out for the beach, the camping and the trails, but I feel like we’re a hidden gem as far as our programs go,” Wagner said. “The numbers haven’t gotten where I’d see like to see them yet, but we have fantastic programs.”
The park’s namesake said he’s been pleased with the park’s success in its first year.
“The staff has done a tremendous job and the number of visitors shows how many families are taking advantage of the wonderful recreational opportunities,” Carter said.
Several people were out last week at the park’s attractions, including Brown, who heard about the park through word of mouth.
“Everybody talks about this park, especially at work,” he said.
Joining him on the pier were day campers from Faith Christian Academy off Candler Road in South Hall.
“This is our second visit our here,” teacher Janet Moses said. “I love it.”
A couple of her students, sisters Shant’e and Laila Young, agreed with Moses’ assessment.
Shant’e, on her first trip to the park, had reeled in a crappie.
“That was my first fish, too,” she said.
Terrell Williams, who found out about Don Carter State Park from the Internet, brought his camper to the park from Social Circle.
“It’s a good getaway place,” he said. “It’s not hustle and bustle like some of (the parks).”
Williams isn’t all pleased, however.
“I think the asphalt in the camping areas takes away from the environment and the campsites are on top of each other,” he said.
But, for the most part, he likes to stay put when he arrives, saying he hasn’t ventured to other places in the park.
“I just relax and get away, and that’s about it,” Williams said.