This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Some Georgia communities view outdoor recreation as a nice little perk, but many others consider it a major quality-of-life issue resulting in a significant economic impact.
Family Friendly Lake Seminole is rated one of the best places for bass fishing. The lake attracts an assortment of outdoor lovers including hunters and fishing enthusiasts.
According to a 2017 state-issued press release, outdoor recreation is big business in Georgia attracting 10 million visitors to Georgia’s state parks and historic sites. These visitors spent $1 billion on lodging, gas, food, souvenirs, activities and other items.
Rome and Floyd County have a multitude of outdoor recreation sites and the support of taxpayers to invest in enhancing and expanding their outdoor spaces for play, exercise and relaxation.
Rome and Floyd County are home to a multi-use trail system that includes 11 trails, some of which cross three rivers and a creek. The area also has 29 parks and centers, golf/ skate/tennis center, a campground, nature conservancy, the Chattahoochee National Forest and other sites.
The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College is billed as the nation’s largest hard-court facility. The 60-court venue located on 30 acres is comprised of United States Tennis Association standard, asphalt tennis courts and includes six National Collegiate Athletic Association regulation courts, three center courts for tournament and collegiate play, and one exhibition court.
The center, which opened a year and a half ago, is a partnership between the local government and the college. The project was funded by a Special-Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that was approved by voters in 2013, and the college donated a 30-acre parcel for the project.
Since its completion, Rome and Floyd County have experienced an explosion of tennis bookings, which means a ripple effect for other businesses such as hotels, restaurants and shops.
“Tournaments have tripled,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. “It has exceeded our expectations.”
Outdoor recreation is a “tremendous” benefit to Rome’s population of 36,500 and Floyd County’s 97,000 residents as well as its visitors.
“We are working to help build the culture more toward recreation,” said Rich, noting that voters are being asked to return to the polls in November to decide whether $1.1 million should be spent on an additional section of trail.
Over in the city of Cartersville, the Red Top Mountain State Park is the most visited park in the state system with more than 629,500 visitors annually. The 1,776-acre park with more than 15 miles of trails attracts campers, hikers, fishing enthusiasts, swimmers and boaters. The 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona is one of its most popular sites.
One official referred to Red Top Mountain State Park as “an extremely valuable” resource.
“I think it [the park] has an extremely positive impact particularly from a downtown perspective,” said Director of Cartersville Downtown Development Authority Lillie Read. “It really just helps to provide well-rounded opportunities for people to come to our community and see what we have here.”
Tourists are ‘Big Fishing’ in Donalsonville
The fish are biting in Donalsonville-Seminole County and officials there want to reap all of the benefits they can.
Lake Seminole has been rated among the best bass fishing lakes in the United States. The 37,500-acre reservoir lake is located in the southwest corner of Georgia along its border with Florida.
The lake attracts an assortment of outdoor lovers including hunters and fishing enthusiasts.
Reed Rognstad, owner of Spring Creek Park Resort at Lake Seminole, estimates that there are one to three tournaments at Spring Creek Park/Reynolds Landing every weekend. The tournaments involve local clubs from Georgia and other states, high school groups and professional competitors. This park and landing is but one of several around the lake where tournaments are held.
Rognstad’s property includes a campground, RV park, cabins, motel and two restaurants and she said she’s experienced substantial growth in the 15 years she’s owned the property. She now has 18 employees and pointed out that revenue from the resort has helped her put two children through college.
Her gross sales have increased from $70,000 a year in the beginning to approximately $600,000 today, she said.
“It has grown leaps and bounds,” said Rognstad.
According to Karen Kimbrel, president of the Donalsonville-Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, a bass tournament can attract up to 100 boats with two to three individuals occupying each boat as well as having several family members accompanying them to the event. The number of attendees can easily swell to 300 to 500, she said.
Those events bring people who book hotel rooms and cabins, buy groceries, make purchases at bait and tackle shops, eat at restaurants and contribute in other ways to local businesses.
Recognizing the value of Lake Seminole, the county spent approximately $1 million three to four years ago to modernize Reynolds Landing boat ramp and this year funded $70,000 for additional repairs.
Last year Donalsonville and Seminole County launched the Big Fish Festival at the lake and an estimated 5,000 people came for a variety of activities including arts and crafts, live entertainment, fish fry contest and antique car and truck show. Organizers are hoping for even more visitors when it takes place the third weekend in October.