On Friday, May 27, state and local officials and community members gathered at Amicalola Falls State Park to officially open the new visitor center.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, several state and local officials spoke, then donned hard hats and picked up shovels to officially open the long-awaited project.
In his welcome and introduction, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deputy Commissioner Walter Rabon explained that the park, which has been around since 1940 and is one of Georgia’s most popular state parks, attracts up to millions of visitors each year with its amenities and its connection to the Appalachian Trail.
It serves as the main southern access point to the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail; the Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and is heavily trafficked with approximately 3 million visitors annually,” Rabon said. “The park also offers a variety of other activities, including camping, cabins, ziplines, a 57-room lodge, restaurant and conference center, and a 729-foot waterfall.”
Due to the number of visitors who come to the park each year, he said the new visitor center is a much-needed and long-awaited improvement over the old one.
“The new visitor center will include enhanced retail space, historical exhibits, a multi-purpose meeting room and the ability to serve as an instant command center in emergency situations,” Rabon said.
During his speech, Sen. Steve Gooch said projects like the new visitor center are badly needed to continue improving and preserving state parks like Amicalola.
“It’s a gem of a facility; it’s a state park that you all own as taxpayers and we’re just here to preserve it for future generations; there are so many people who have come and gone before us and made this possible,” Gooch said. “As citizens and as legislators, we have a responsibility to try to preserve it, maintain it and let others enjoy it in the future.”
Gooch was instrumental in the project as the Senate sponsor of the legislation that created the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, legislation that preserves funding for projects such as the visitor center.
“The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act will continue to provide a dedicated revenue stream for major projects, not just in state parks, but throughout our state, cities and counties,” Gooch said. “When the ministry asked me to bring this legislation, I was honored to do so because it really shows where your value is going and where your tax money is going. We have a nice facility here, and it’s going to be exciting to see this come to fruition.”
State Representative Will Wade and Dawson County District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett also spoke at the ceremony, recounting their life growing up in Dawson County and all the memories they had. each created with their families at Amicalola Falls State Park.
“My mom was a naturalist here in the late 80s and early 90s, so I literally grew up here for a decade of my childhood,” Wade said, recounting memories of spending summers at the park and hanging out. prepare for basketball season by running uphill. falls and back. “I think [the new center] is a great addition and it gives people lots to do and lots of fun, and it’s just an amazing next century testament to what can be experienced here.”
Wade added that he remembers hearing rumors that the old visitor center was already obsolete at the time, so he is proud to have played a part in bringing the new center to fruition.
“This is a big project; I even remember as a young child some of the mumblings of people about ‘this building is old’ and ‘it’s a bit outdated’ and ‘it’s expensive to replace these bulbs’,” Wade said, “so I know bringing this building into the 21st century will be welcomed not only by this community, but also by those hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who walk through those doors or pass through those drink to come and experience what I believe to be truly a southern gem.”
Fausett also recounted memories of living his whole life just down the road from Amicalola and taking his son to the park to play every day after school. She said that while it may be a bittersweet moment to see the old visitor center no longer stand where it always has, the new center will be a great addition to the park.
“I’m just going to declare it to be one of the best days we’ve had in this county,” Fausett said emphatically during his speech. “Part of it for me is bittersweet because I’ve been here my whole life just down the street but the visitor center has done its job and I know it will be absolutely brilliant when it’s finished.”
She added that as a county commissioner, a big part of her thought process when it comes to budgeting and planning how to spend money is thinking about how much a project is needed.
“We go into budget time and of course we think about budgets all the time, and what I try to do is try to say ‘is this a want or is this a need’ and that It was really both but it was a huge need because it’s been around for so long,” Fausett said. “It’s definitely a gem and I’m so proud that it’s in Dawson County and in the District 1; I just want to thank everyone who helped make this happen.
Before launching the project, James Hamilton of the North Georgia Mountains Authority thanked all of the groups and individuals who helped make the project possible, noting that it would not have been possible without these partnerships.
“In all the years I’ve been at DNR, I find that the best project and the best park operations are those that are based on really strong partnerships and positive relationships, and this project couldn’t have happened. otherwise,” Hamilton said.
The new Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center is currently scheduled for completion in the spring of 2023.