Eric Bentley, Ga. State Parks & Historic Sites Manager

Eric Bentley, Ga. State Parks & Historic Sites Manager

Public Hearing on ATV Park:  Reported by:  Donna Haralson

A public hearing for the proposed ATV Park on Bush   Head Shoals was held Tuesday night at the 4-H Center.  Eric Bentley, Region 3 Manager for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites and Director Becky Kelley provided a conceptual plan and answered questions from approximately 50+ concerned residents.

Bently started with an explanation of the purpose of the hearing.  He stated that each year the federal government provides RTP (Recreational Trail Program) grants to fund non-motorized or motorized trails.  In the past Georgia has declined the $1M+ for motorized trails.  In an effort to capture those federal funds the GA Department of Natural Resources commissioners asked the State Park Service to do an extensive search of all properties in the state to determine which park would be feasible for the grant.  Following the search of 65 parks and several satellite properties (Bush Head Shoals is a satellite park operated by Chattahoochee Bend Park staff), the only park suitable for that type of development was Bush Head Shoals Park.  It was considered a “blank canvas” or “empty woods.”   Other possible sites were almost fully developed and Bush Head has 700+ acres for the 16.31 mile track.  Currently only one ATV park exist in the state and is located in the north Georgia mountains and overseen by the US Forestry Service.

The grant submitted was written for 50” wide or narrower ATV’s only. No trucks, jeeps, or motorcycles would be permitted on the trails.  The trails are designed for slow speeds, family friendly with twist and turns to prevent high speeds and the trails would be one way only.  Bently stated the park service has registered complaints about the “pristine property.” He stated the property had been fully timbered and cut within the last 3 to 4 years. The majority of pines are 2nd or 3rd generation.  Their goal is to provide a good and safe park for families to come out and enjoy.  The park would be open 365 days per year, weather permitting and closed during rain events and flooding to prevent damage to the trails.  State law requires that trails must be 25 feet away from the water, they proposed a setback of 100 feet from the river to allow more distance.

The satellite park would be operated by staff from Chattahoochee Bend Park and volunteers. The hours of operation would follow the sunset calendar.  Initially the campground would be for tents only and have no electricity.  RV’s would be directed to Chattahoochee Bend Park 12 miles away.

Some questions asked by the public addressed how emergency calls would be handled and by whom, the cost to Heard County, riders trespassing on adjacent properties, damage to trees, wildlife, plant life, and how they would oversee visitor’s coolers, etc.  Bently responded that DNR Rangers were always in the area and on call, they would work in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies.  The first call is placed to 911 and at that point the necessary resources are dispatched.  Visitors would check in at a kiosk and pay a fee for parking and riding, during that time staff and visitors would meet face to face and check coolers, etc.  Bently stated they asked for cooperation with law enforcement and Sheriff Henry responded that he would cooperate anyway he could, his concern was having sufficient man power to cover their needs.  Bently acknowledged there would be some cost to the county but money spent on purchasing gasoline, food and other items should result in increased sales tax revenue for the county.  In addition, some supplies would be purchased locally by the park service for use at the park.  When asked about the financial status of Chattahoochee Bend he said they were about 60% self-sustaining and they were in the process of adding cabins and other facilities to become self-supporting.

Property owners David and Jane Barker spoke out against the park primarily due to the destruction of the land, noise and visitors coming onto their property.  They also presented letters for the previous owner J. Rex Fuqua and The Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation (reprinted following this article).  Many others expressed their concerns and objections including Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth.  He stated that from their perspective erosion from the open exposed soil could have damaging effects on the river.  He went on to say the Riverkeeper had been monitoring water quality for the past 23 years and it is cleaner now than it has been in decades, and “You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”

Following the meeting I reached out to Mr. Bently with additional questions.  He confirmed that a final approval from the federal level was still pending along with archeological, biological, and wetlands mitigation studies.  I also asked if the project failed could non-motorized parks be considered, he replied that it could be an option and the current studies would become part of a master plan for future builds and budgeted under capital improvements.

One concern Chairman Lee Boone of the Heard County Board of Commissioners had was staffing, and he was not in favor of the current plan.  He felt it was important for the public to be heard so they, the commissioners could go back and look at those concerns.

The public can email their comments/questions to gastateparkscustomerservice@ndr.ga.gov or call the Region 3 office at 229-430-4402.  The public comment period ends June 30th.  To view the public hearing vising our website at www.newsandbanner.com


Attached Letters:  

  1. Rex Fuqua

May 12, 2017

Governor Nathan Deal Office of the Governor 206 Washington Street Suite 203, State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334

Mr. Chris Riley Chief of Staff

Office of the Governor 206 Washington Street Suite 203 , State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334

Mr. Mark Williams, Commissioner Georgia Department of Natural Resources 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE

Suite 1252 – East Tower

Atlanta, GA 30334

Ms. Becky Kelley, Director

Gwrgia State Parks and Historic Sites Headquarters

2600 Highway 155 SW

Stockbridge, GA 30281

RE:    DNR proposed ATV park along the Chattahoochee River in Heard

County, Georgia


Dear Gov. Deal, Messrs Riley and Williams, and Ms. Kelley:

In December, 2000, I sold approximately 750 acres along the eastern bank of the Chattahoochee River to The Natlll’e Conservancy at less than half the appraised value. My motivation in accepting the seven figure reduction in price was to insme that this property would remain in its pristine undeveloped state.

This property is covered with old growth hardwood trees, home to countless wildlife species, rare plants, and archaeological sites. The property also serves as a protective buffer for the waters of the Chattahoochee which provides drinking water for millions of people.  It is one of the most beautiful tracts of land that I have ever seen and I was happy  to make a significant contribution toward its protection in order for future generations to enjoy it.

I have learned in the last two days that DNR plans to fund and construct an ATV park on this property in the very near future.  I cannot imagine a use more inconsistent with my intent in selling this property to The Nature Conservancy. This plan is environmentally irresponsible and embarrassing. I am extremely perplexed and confused as to how this plan by the DNR has evolved.

I look forward to hearing a response which addresses my concerns.


  1. Rex Fuqua

The Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation

A Trust Qualified Under Section S01(c)(3) of the internal Revenue Code

Tax Identification #59-366640 3

Hogansville, Georgia 30230


May 12, 2017

Commissioner Lee Boone Commissioner Larry Hooks Commissioner Keri Denney Commissioner Gwen Caldwell Commissioner Larry Hammond Commissioner Joe Adams

Mr. Mark Williams. Commissioner Georgia Department of Natural Resources Governor Nathan Deal

Mr. Chris Riley. Chief of Staff. Office of the Governor Ms. Becky Kelley, GA State Parks and Historic Sites Mr. J. Rex Fuqua

Nature Conservancy

Re:  Proposed State Park for ATV Riding in Heard County, Georgia

As Trustee of The Holland M. Ware Charitable foundation which owns thousands of acres bordering this proposed park on the Southeast and to the North, we werr. extremely disturbed that this ATV Park was being proposed. We are firmly against this proposal.

As the Nature Conservancy led Mr. Fuqua, the original owner of the property to believe, this tract was to remain in its undeveloped state. The Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation has a Conservation Easement which protects the land, the soil, the water and the wildlife on the property adjacent to this proposed park with considerable   Chattahoochee River frontage and as  such  are  very concerned about the impact this will have on the forests and the waters of  this area.  The foundation is deeply concerned about the Conservation of the  land that  we have stewardship over.  The waters of the Chattahoochee river are a precious commodity to the people in this region. The requirements for protection of that river are strict and stringent as they should be. This proposed park is not conducive to conservation of any kind.

On behalf of the Foundation we oppose this proposed park.  The destruction of the land and the Natural Resources is extremely irresponsible. As neighboring landowners. we are at an extremely high risk for the dangers of fire, (camping, vehicular accidents creating sparks in dry weather as well as smokers. etc.) as   well as trespassing, damage to our own wildlife and unnatural movement of such due to noise, disruption of habitat, etc.   The impact on the landscape is scarring, the local needs for additional housing does not exist in Heard County, the planning history of this site is in direct violation to the intent not to mention the overshadowing and overbearing presence- near common boundaries is to the extreme detriment of adjacent landowners. The risk of an increase in crime such a drunkenness, automotive accidents, ATV accidents by irresponsible drivers, vandalism, etc. is astronomical. The road issues such as traffic generation, vehicle access and road safety is another issue. The capacity for infrastructure such as public drainage systems is also of question and concern. We also have concerns about the noise and disturbance resulting from use including proposed hours of operation, the loss of trees, the impact on nature conservation interests and

Biodiversity opportunities, the impact on archaeological finds or potential site disrupt ions.

We urge you to reject this proposal and retain this site in its intended, pristine and undeveloped state.


Holland M. Ware, Trustee

Brenda L. Thueson, Trustee

Edward L. Bodily, Trustee