Coalition of county officials petition Gov. Kemp to close state parks during Shelter-In-Place Order

Yesterday afternoon, as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was reassuring the public, via Twitter, that the statewide Shelter-in-Place Executive Order is being enforced and adhered to at state parks and beaches, twelve North Georgia county commissioners were working remotely to draft a joint request to the Governor asking him to close state parks.

“Local leaders across the state … and I agree that the health and safety of Georgians are our top priority during this global pandemic,” Kemp tweeted at 1p.m. That is why we have state troopers and local law enforcement working hand-in-hand with officers to ensure those visiting Georgia beaches and parks are abiding by the shelter-in-place order. Visitors to the beaches cannot bring chairs, umbrellas, coolers or other items that encourage group activities. We have signs leading to beaches and parks to remind people to follow the rules and stay safe. Anyone who breaks these rules will be warned and, if needed, a given a citation for non-compliance. - no exceptions.”

Enforcement, however, addresses the matter a little to late when you have large numbers people traveling to Northeast Georgia counties, said Stephens County Board of Commissioners chair Dennis Bell.

“We have a bunch of folks coming in here - to be honest, Stephens County has some, but it isn’t anything like the northern counties above us that have the state parks up in the mountains; they are the ones that are getting covered up with all these folks,” he told ConnectLocal.

Sunday, Bell along with Habersham County Commission Chair Stacy Hall and commissioner Tim Stamey, and chairs of Franklin, Rabun, White, Union, Towns, Lumpkin, Gilmer, Fannin, Dade and Banks commissions, penned a letter to Kemp to request act to close state parks in the North Georgia region.

“As County Commissioners in North Georgia, we are writing to request that you issue an Executive Order closing down all of the state parks located in our area fro the duration of the statewide Shelter in Place Order. While we are blessed to live in such a beautiful and abundant area of Georgia that hosts so many wonderful state parks, our constituents are highly concerned about the increased traffic to our area during the statewide Shelter-in Place Oder,” The letter states.

“As public awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased, there has been a recent surge in visitors to our area. It appears that these nonresidents believe our area is a safe haven because of its rural nature,” the letter continues.”To the contrary, the influx of people into our communities has had a staggering detrimental effect on our resources. Our communities simply do not have enough hospital beds or medical personnel to care for the inflated population. Similarly, there is not enough food, dry goods, fuel and other supplies to adequately provide for the numbers we are experiencing.”

“The problem is, you have an influx of people coming in from different states right now, a huge influx of people. It’s not the locals, you have people from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, you’ve got people from Fulton County coming up into the mountains trying to get away,” Bell explained. “Nobody is taking this thing seriously and its not going to get any better when you have people meeting up like we’ve been seeing.

Bell said government overreach is a concern for him, and for Kemp, but said that there are situations where extreme measures are called for.

“When it come s to a situation where you have a pandemic or health crisis, I do feel that sometimes the government's got to overreach just a little – but i’ll be one or the fist on our side to make sure everything gets back to normal. I don't want to see an overreach where the government can tell someone what to do for a long period of time," Bell said. "I've talked with some folks at the governor's office, and he doesn't want to overreach, but when folks are not doing what they’ve been asked to do for two or three weeks, then you have to do something. If we as a citizenry don't stand together and do what we are supposed to do, then this thing is never going to go away.”

“Above all, I will continue to work with local leaders across our state to stop the spread of COVID-19 because we will win this fight together,” Kemp said to close his Sunday afternoon Tweet.

The US Forest Service has closed down all of the department's “sited” campgrounds, and the Army Corps of Engineers has closed campgrounds and day-use areas at Thurmond Lake and Hartwell Lake.

ConnectLocal will update this story as new information or a response from Kemp becomes available.


North Georgia Sate Parks include:

Tugaloo State Park Lavonia Moccasin Creek State Park Clarkesville

Tallulah Gorge State Park Tallulah Falls Black Rock Mountain State Park Mountain City

Unicoi State Park & Lodge Helen Vogel State Park Blairsville Victoria Bryant State Park Royston Amicalola Falls State Park Dawsonville Smithgall Woods State Park Helen Traveler's Rest State Historic Site Toccoa Hart State Park Hartwell

Don Carter State Park Gainesville Fort Yargo State Park Winder Watson Mill Bridge State Park Comer Richard B. Russell State Park Elberton

Fort Mountain State Park Chatsworth

Cloudland Canyon State Park Rising Fawn Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge Dawsonville Elijah Clark State Park Lincolnton


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