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New 'mega-ramp' could lure fishing events to Lanier
Laurel Park site one of 10 in states Go Fish project
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Laurel Park on Lake Lanier was named Friday as a site for one of 10 "mega-ramps" to accommodate large fishing tournaments.

Steve Gailey, Hall County commissioner for District 3 that includes Laurel Park, said the announcement is the culmination of several months worth of work by Hall County officials.

The announcement was made in Perry by Gov. Sonny Perdue, who also announced that the Middle Georgia city would be the home of the Go Fish Georgia Center and Hatchery. A visitor's center in Perry will market and promote fishing opportunities throughout the state. The 120-acre site will include an onsite public fishing lake and a fully functioning warm-water hatchery.

"The announcements today are exactly what I envisioned when I proposed the Go Fish Georgia program: State and local governments joining with private donations, all contributing to growing our state as a destination for recreational and tournament fishing," Perdue said.

Laurel Park, which is the starting point for a number of fishing tournaments, would be the site of a mega-ramp, which would be designed to accommodate six to eight boats at a time with parking facilities for 200 to 400 vehicles and boat trailers.

Gailey said the project -- which the county would start on "immediately, I hope" -- includes adding a pavilion that could hold up to 300 people. He said that while the entire Hall County legislative delegation had been working on getting the improvements for Laurel Park, he recognized in particular the efforts of Sen. Lee Hawkins and Rep. Doug Collins.

"We're just very, very happy that we got it in this county," Gailey said. "It's going to be a great facility."
Gailey said the improvements are key to plans to attract national fishing tournaments to Lake Lanier, indicating that the Bassmaster Tour has been "extremely interested" in Lanier.

"I'm optimistic that this can be a positive to Hall County," said Tom Oliver, Hall County commission chairman. "Bringing tourist dollars into Hall County is a priority we all can benefit from. However, there are many details to be worked out."

Gailey agreed that the improvements will bring a big boost to Hall County's economy, even though the county will have to match the funds given by the state. "It'll put us on the map" with anglers and recreational boaters, he said.

John Biagi, chief of fisheries for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, said the state's portion of the park upgrades would be approximately $400,000, with the county to match that amount in either funds or in-kind services. In addition to the ramp, the improvements would include restrooms and courtesy docks for boat parking.

Gailey said the improvements at Laurel Park would mean extending the dock farther out into the water, too. Access at boat ramps has been a concern for anglers and recreational boaters as well as the level of Lake Lanier has dropped steadily in recent months.

Gailey said both the Laurel Park ramp extension and plans underway at Clarks Bridge Park to extend the ramp there should improve access to the lake. "Hopefully, we'll never be in a situation again where we can't put a boat in at Laurel Park or Clarks Bridge Park," he said.

Both parks are popular access points for boaters.

Perdue announced his Go Fish Georgia initiative during the 2007 legislative session. He came to Lake Lanier Islands in July and announced plans for a major professional fishing tournament, which was to take place on Lanier. Those plans were scuttled by the lingering drought which has dropped the lake to record low water levels.

Fishing contributes approximately $1.5 billion to Georgia's economy each year. The Department of Natural Resources estimates more than 10,000 jobs in Georgia are related to sport fishing, which generates $15 million in state income taxes, and $19 million in state sales taxes. A major bass fishing tournament can have as much as a $5 million economic impact on a local community. A championship event can have a $27 million economic impact.

In addition to Lanier, two mega-ramp sites will be built on Lake Hartwell using funds from the PCB contamination settlement stemming from chemical releases upstream by a South Carolina plant that eventually flowed down into the lake.

Senior Content Editor Edie Rogers contributed to this story.