Don Carter State Park is open — again.
The first time was a “soft opening” on July 15, with thousands pouring through the gates since then to enjoy the 1,316-acre North Hall County park’s amenities. Then, Monday morning, a bevy of state officials — including Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — gave their blessing in a formal dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The 30-minute ceremony was held under a white tent at the park’s day-use area, with guests shuttled by vans to the event from the boat ramp.
“Tourism is our No. 2 economic driver, behind agriculture, so this (park) will be a very important cog in that wheel,” Deal said to the crowd, which included the park’s namesake and his wife, Lucile.
The park was named in 2002 after the 81-year-old Carter, a longtime Hall County resident, who retired from the Georgia Board of Natural Resources after nearly three decades.
During his watch, Carter helped state officials identify the land off North Browning Bridge Road overlooking Lake Lanier as a potential park site. Also, as chairman of the board’s Land Acquisition Committee, he helped the state secure nearly 300,000 acres for parks and historic sites.
“On behalf of our entire family, we are very humbled that our name is associated with this,” said his son, Doug Carter, who is president and broker of Don Carter Realty Co. in Gainesville. “We appreciate what everyone has done to play a part in this and who will play a role in future generations.”
The park features a visitor center, camping, fishing, picnicking, playgrounds, hiking, beach and trails. Eight rental cabins, with rocking-chair porches and fully equipped kitchens, opened after July 15.
An information sheet at the park’s visitor center states kayak and bike rentals are “coming soon.”
About 60,000 people have visited the park since its opening, said Park Manager Will Wagner.
“The park has had a great start and promises to be a jewel in our state park system,” said Mark Williams, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Cagle said he recalled when former DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett, who was at the ceremony, approached state government several years ago and asked for money in the budget “to make sure we completed this project.”
“It was easy to say yes, even though it was a very difficult time economically for all of us and certainly for the state,” Cagle said.
Carter had given “to the state tirelessly to ensure that we can enjoy the beauty and splendor that this great state offers.”
Deal also thanked the General Assembly for funding the project.
“When you vote for bond packages, that’s not always the most popular thing to do,” he said. “It is perceived sometimes as the ultimate earmark and ... localism, and you have to defend those things sometimes.”
The park was financed by a $14 million bond package, with construction costs running about $11.5 million.
The ceremony also featured Richard Mecum, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, reading a proclamation honoring Carter, and music by the Flowery Branch High School Steel Drum Band and guitarist Mike Armstrong.
Afterward, Don Carter said he “had no idea” the ceremony “would be so moving.”
“It wish it had been more for the help instead of so much (about) me,” he said.