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September 2019
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Simple rules needed for wilderness areas of Georgia

     Recently two Progress staff members, plus a daughter, visited the Dawson Forest for kayaking/canoeing on the Amicalola River. Even though this newspaper had published articles on the Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass, neither of the adults had bought the pass ahead of time.

In fact, we didn’t think about it until we saw the user fee signs at the put-in.            

     The problem was, at that point, there was nowhere to put cash into the big iron tubes used at many outdoor recreation areas. And there wasn’t any signage posting information on how to purchase the pass at the place where we parked. [In fairness, the parking lot at the Amicalola Hwy. 53 access is under construction. Had that parking been open, there would have been a sign.]

     That Friday afternoon, the two of us poached a run without a pass. A daughter under 16 doesn’t need a pass, nor would someone over 64 years old.

Over the same weekend, a friend who mountain bikes was talking about a similar experience at a trail in Gilmer County. The local rider had a pass, but a group from out of town did not have passes and similarly saw no information on where to call once they got to the trail.

     When you consider the number of trailheads and river access points in North Georgia, it would take a lot of signage to cover all those entry points.

For those who haven’t kept up with the GORP - effective January 1, a Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass is required to use 32 properties managed by the Wildlife Resources Division of Georgia DNR.

     A yearly pass is only $19, so it’s a great deal for anyone who ventures outdoors. A three-day pass is $3.50, ridiculously cheap compared to movies, video games or going out to eat. The GORP is required if you want to bike, canoe, hike, photograph wildflowers or just ramble around.

     We support this program, as the money collected fixes up state facilities. Before this, everything was funded through hunting and fishing. It was never fair for the state to maintain wilderness areas off the backs of only hunters and fishermen.

     But, as our mountain biking friend said, the program is managed by a bunch of bureaucrats. No small business would make it this hard to collect money from customers, and the product is so arbitrary: some places you need the pass, some places you don’t.

     For example, one of us thought if you had a hunting license, you didn’t need a GORP. The answer is sometimes. A senior pass, a lifetime or three-day license covers your GORP. A regular yearly license, apparently, does not include the GORP.

     Adding further confusion, the GORP is only required at a third of the 100 state wildlife areas.

     Officials explain this property selection as based on public input. But it is also because some properties are managed by some agencies and some by others, and all have different rules.

     We believe the public appreciates wilderness, not really caring which state agency manages it with unique rules. There are still parking fees entirely separate from the GORP at some areas we assume. For these you need cash, $4 for access points to Carters Lake. And with no change provided, we bet they get a lot of $5’s  and even some $10 bills.

     It’s frustrating. Most outdoorsmen don’t want to feel they are sneaking onto a river or trail without a permit, but they may find themselves stranded without a pass or the correct cash.

     Generally nature lovers take pride in parks and gladly pay to  keep public lands open and facilities in good repair, but the state should not ambush us when we get there.

     To succeed, Georgia’s GORP program needs some simple uniform rules, something like this: A GORP is required for any adult going to any state lands unless you have a hunting or fishing license. Period. Make this applicable to every park in the state and do away with daily user fees or parking fees.