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Staff Editorials

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.


Eastwood mania hits town

   Related story Jasper to get new dug outs from Eastwood movie

   Related story  Film Production in Pickens County Economic Blockbuster or Flop?


  clinteastwoodOkay, maybe it’s not quite “mania,” but having Clint Eastwood come to Jasper to film Trouble With the Curve has been a sizzling topic of conversation around Jasper. In a place where western films are standard fare for infants and toddlers, and to show we’re not above a little celebrity fawning, we’re saddling up on the Clint bandwagon to have fun with the fact one of Hollywood’s biggest stallions is riding into our little one horse town.

     To celebrate, we suggest that from now until filming is over at the end of next week, you and your friends use as much Eastwood lingo, diction and body language as possible in everyday conversation. Think “International Talk Like a Pirate Day,” only cooler and more sustained. Try injecting a few popular Eastwood quotes into discussions held over dinner or coffee––and keep in mind the quotes you use do not have to fit the conversation perfectly.

     Here are a few examples:

When your young child’s whining has forced you to dole out punishment, which leads to said child crying, tell him or her, “You don't have to worry, Kid. I ain't gonna kill you. You're the only friend I got.” – Unforgiven, 1992.

     If you are eating dinner with your family, and your teenager gets bored and starts lackadaisically digging around in their mashed potatoes, say, “You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966.

     If your waitress tells you they are all out of Splenda and would Sweet n’ Low be okay, you say, “Go ahead, make my day.” Dirty Harry, 1971.

     If you are at a TEA Party meeting, and the topic of gun control comes up, ask for the microphone and say, “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there's a gun around, I want to be in control of it.” – Pink Cadillac, 1989.

     To heighten the Eastwood frenzy a bit more, we would also suggest a “Clint Day,” which would culminate in a Clint Eastwood look-alike parade. Participants would choose their favorite Clint character and dress like him, then mozy on over to the Progress parking lot on one of the days he’s in town.

     We’ll all spend an hour or so talking to each other using our best Eastwood impressions, then line up and march around the parking lot. As a finale, we’ll shoot our guns in the air (because we assume 99 percent of participants will come wearing a poncho, tattered cowboy hat and holstered pistol) and hope that the real Clint hears us from Jasper City Park, where he will be filming. In all seriousness, if you have the gumption to dress up and come by the Progress office next week, we’ll take your photo and print it in the paper.

     Finally, since no good column on a celebrity comes without a little gossip, here are some tidbits we’ve heard from the rumor mill.

     •Eastwood had an entire pallet of Pabst Blue Ribbon delivered to the set in Dawsonville, another Georgia filming location.

     •Eastwood and Justin Timberlake (who also stars) have plans to eat at a local restaurant, but instead of eating with other patrons, they’ll rent the entire place out and eat alone.

     •Eastwood flew to filming locations in Dawsonville by helicopter.

     •Eastwood is making more money for one hour of shooting Trouble with the Curve than we make in two years.

So let’s all put our best boot forward and make the experience here for Eastwood and the rest of the cast and crew a good one, because, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s a whole lot of fun having movie stars come to town.

What kudzu should have taught us about tilapia

When folks back in 1883 first introduced kudzu to the southern United States, they had noble intentions. The kudzu vine served a lot of purposes from shading patios to erosion control and as vittles for cows. At the time, bringing it here seemed like a good idea.

But as we all now know, kudzu’s reputation morphed from fame to infamy in less than a century, with the plant that was once recommended by the Soil Erosion Service eventually being relegated to the Federal Noxious Weed List in 1997.

Now kudzu (a.k.a. the vine that ate the South) covers millions of acres in the southeastern United States, rendering areas impassable for anything but billy goats or bulldozers.

Apparently Georgia lawmakers have not thought about  kudzu lately. They seem to have forgotten that introducing non-native species into ecosystems does not always turn out as expected.

While the kudzu problem is not life threatening, it is ample evidence that legislators should not tinker with nature. If you need more, consider the numerous nature shows about Burmese Pythons––former pet snakes now over-running  Florida.

Ignoring this potential for troublesome results, a  bill is being considered under the Gold Dome that would open our state for tilapia farming. The bill would legalize stocking of the non-native tilapia fish in farm ponds and would classify tilapia as a domestic species. This effort turns a blind eye to history and places our waters and native fish at unnecessary risk while likely gaining but little benefit.

Four state senators introduced the bill. One was John Wilkinson of Toccoa, who told reporters he spearheaded the legislation, because there were constituents interested in raising tilapia in their ponds. Apparently, bass in ponds stocked with tilapia grow larger. Assumedly, they bulk up on small fry tilapia.

We’re sure having a bigger bass to hang over the sofa could reel in some bragging rights for sport fishermen, if everything goes as planned. But what are the chances stocked tilapia will stay inside the ponds? Environmental groups such as the Georgia River Network aren’t buying it. They (and we) think the natural world is too unpredictable to control, and we say don’t take that chance just for bigger trophy fish.  Remember the  movie, Jurassic Park, and Jeff Goldblum’s line just after he realized the dinosaurs were mating and reproducing? He said, “Life will find a way.” Well, we think tilapia will find a way just as other invasive species in the South have, species such as Chinese privet and mimosa trees.

What happens if our waterways flood and tilapia make their way from farm ponds into Georgia’s rivers and streams? Ecologists say tilapia mate in warm waters, and the species is fast growing, that they breed rapidly and can withstand poor water quality. On its website, The Georgia Rivers Coalition cites a study out of the University of Georgia that found tilapia will survive temperatures above mid-50 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning the species can “live in 8 out of 10 south Georgia winters and in any spring-fed portion of a river or warm water discharge.”

Tilapia also like to dig, which could create brackish water and threaten plant and animal species that need more light to thrive. Tilapia are even listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's 100 of the World's Worst Alien Invasive Species list, and some ecologists call them the “kudzu fish.” To us, bringing them here sounds like a pan-fried recipe for disaster.

While the consequences are not certain, introducing tilapia here has the potential to threaten native Georgia river fish like crappie and bream and Redbreast sunfish. The chance of producing bigger bass is just not worth the risk. The bill has already passed the Georgia Senate and needs approval from the House before it becomes law, so encourage your representative to vote no to SB 360.


Tourism may help local economy but our plans must be realistic

Tourism in Pickens County has reared its lovely head again, crooning a siren song that this is the key to our economic prosperity. Several events have just arrived together, pushing tourism to forefront attention. Those include the March debut of Gibbs Gardens on Yellow Creek Road (900 visitors in one day its second week); the announcement that BRAG will again bring more than 1,000 bicycling tourists and their families this June; plus a second annual Jasper ArtFest coming this spring.

And we will just have to wait and see what impact the filming of movie scenes at Jasper City Park for a Clint Eastwood film may bring. The director is shooting the movie in bits and pieces all over Georgia.

Based on the writings of local merchant Royce Haley, scribe of “Eclectic Finds” (on page 2A this week and last), even with no organized attraction here, a lot of traveler commerce is landed locally simply by operating an attractive storefront beside Highway 53. As Haley notes, much of his Burnt Mountain Trading Company’s revenue arrives here in the pockets of people just out for a ramble.

There is certainly a lot to be said for tourism as an industry. It is extremely clean. And customers leave at the end of the day, which means they won’t be needing classrooms here for their children or fire protection for their homes.

So we hope tourism does come to play a bigger role in this county’s financial well being. But to create more opportunity here in that line, we still have some work to do. In an emperor-has-no-clothes moment, we point out Pickens still has no bona fide attraction.

There are some nice features here, including the Sharptop Arts Center, the Marble Festival, the Old Jail/Cabin and some fine eateries. But ask yourself, compared with what is out there across the state, how far would you drive for what this county currently offers? Our bet is not that far.

We’re a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to visit as things stand now.

The newly formed Four Corners Consortium aims to link Pickens County and surrounding counties in an effort to create more of an area approach. This is good. For Pickens, being in the middle of some good things, like Gibbs Gardens on one side and the Booth Museum/Indian mounds at Cartersville on the other, should surely increase our tourist traffic.

But for all those tuned up to sing the praises of tourism, here are some questions or points we hope you will consider.

• We are currently a “drive-through” area. People may not come here as a destination, but plenty pass through, even if it is only to reach Blue Ridge. Having attractive roadsides, signage and businesses that might lure someone to stop a while could help us develop those tourist dollars, even if we never add another attraction.

• Sunday is more important for tourist dollars than we previously believed. One thing Mr. Haley’s column reveals is that Sunday is a very strong day for anyone relying on tourist bucks. Event organizers and business owners may want to give more emphasis to Sundays. Throughout spring, Saturdays are booked solid with multiple events going on at the same time on many weekends. How about a few brave souls to try Sunday afternoons this year?

• They may not be tourists in the normal sense, but let’s not forget there are a lot of shoppers and diners out in the Henderson Mountain area and living around Four Mile Church. A tourism plan to target people within 20 miles would find a surprising number who currently venture outside Pickens without giving establishments here a fair chance.

We are optimistic tourism could play a significant role in the future around here, but we’d throw in a dash of realism, saying there are considerable challenges still to overcome with that.


In this case contraception is everyone’s responsibility


While we know many of the presidential candidates strongly disagree on the issue of contraception, in the case of spaying and neutering pets, we say it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Marking national SPAY Day (Feb. 28, just before the height of mating season), we remind you to show your pet some love by having them spayed or neutered. This not only saves lives but also improves your pet’s quality of life. We love our pets and know you probably love yours, too.

According to the Humane Society, nearly 4 million cats and dogs are put down in U.S. shelters each year. Here, the Pickens County Animal Shelter has taken in approximately 2,700 unwanted animals since its grand opening in March of last year. Of those animals, the shelter has adopted out 261 and relocated many others to rescue facilities. Unfortunately, just over 1,000 unwanted animals impounded at the shelter have been put down.

According to Pickens Animal Shelter Director Brandi Strawn, thus far in 2012, many of those euthanized animals were either sick, injured or aggressive. But during 2011, many were put down simply because the shelter needed the room.

“We just had so many animals coming in,” Strawn explained. She noted that while the beginning of 2012 has been on the “laid back side,” concerning animal intakes, right now is the slow season. Strawn expects the number of intakes to drastically increase in the spring.

Residents here often have at least a small amount of property or farmland where their dogs and cats can roam around outside. That seems fine as long as the animal is friendly. But having unspayed or un-neutered pets in the open, even if they are in a fenced-in backyard, is an invitation for disaster.

Cats can have, on average, three litters per year, with four to six kittens per litter. Dogs can have anywhere from one to four litters per year. If these offspring are not then spayed or neutered, the unwanted pet population can spiral out of control, leading to millions of unnecessary euthanizations, as we can see from the statistics above.

According to information provided by the Humane Society of the United States, two unaltered cats can lead to 420,000 cats in just seven years, while two unaltered dogs can result in 67,000 in six years.

The Humane Society also reports that six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters each year. Of those, just three to four million are adopted, and 30 percent of dogs and two to five percent of cats are reclaimed by owners.

We know it is expensive, but beyond saving lives and improving your own pet’s life, we think it is actually easier on pet owners to spend the money and have their animal fixed up front, before the little fuzzballs start arriving.

Having a pet fixed makes life less stressful for the owner, who is otherwise forced to find homes for each new litter (which unfortunately means animals sometimes get dumped on the side of the road). For those owners who keep the additional pets around their home, it seems they would spend as much or more on food for extra kittens/puppies as they would on the spay/neuter cost. Beyond those issues, dealing with a pet in heat can be a stressor in itself.

Fortunately, vets often offer discounted spay/neuter rates at this time of year to help head off the pet overpopulation problem. Recently a few Jasper vets have run Progress ads advertising pet spay or neuter at low cost. So please, this spring, check around at local vets for a good price and have those pets spayed and neutered.

Also, we urge you to save a life by acquiring any new pet from the county shelter or from Pickens Animal Rescue, a no-kill facility that houses and adopts unwanted strays.

The shelter can be reached at 706-253-8988. Reach Animal Rescue at 706-692-2772.