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Staff Editorials

More parks would serve people of Georgia well

By Dan Pool
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    If you’ve not made summer travel plans, I would like to be able to recommend many of the great Ga. State Parks.
    They always seem to be clean, safe and well-operated. At more than 50 locations around the Peach state, you can find whatever accommodations you desire – from tent camping by a lake to RV hookups to coastal getaways that let you see the other side of Georgia.
    My personal favorite is tent camping anywhere in north Georgia and not just because it’s too hard to back an RV into a camp site. For me and my family, tent camping is real camping.
    There is no better way to disrupt the modern cycle of constant cell-phone, Facebook and endless news feeds than to go sleep outside, hopefully WITHOUT cell service.
    But, to be practical, at most Georgia parks, there are plenty of plug-ins and enough service to stream a movie. And some of the RV’ers manage elaborate displays of lights, big screen televisions and gourmet kitchens.
    Ga. parks offer great chances to have a vacation close by for low cost and with low stress – throw a pair of shorts and flip-flops, maybe hiking boots and a fishing rod in a bag and you’re all set. The parks do charge a reasonable amount, but by the time you pack your own food and have mostly free entertainment with trails and lakes, it’s still a budget-friendly trip -- even for cottages.
    In north Georgia, there are the classic parks like Vogel and Unicoi nearby and a little bit of drive will get you to Cloudland Canyon – where you can try Frisbee golf in addition to exploring some really cool trails.
    As I said in the beginning, I would like to advise you to try the parks, but as  caution, it’s not that simple – by this time in the year, you’d be lucky (though not impossible) to find an open spot at the best sites. Really nearby are Morganton Point on Lake Blue Ridge or Woodring on Carters (which may not technically be state parks but are still operated under some auspices of government) and they stay booked up often – at least the lakeside spots and on weekends.
    Similarly on the other side of the state, Cumberland Island has phenomenal resources and camping for a more adventurous vacation, but you need to book months in advance there.
    The idea that you could hop into the car with kids on a Friday and drive to a state park and find a spot is not practical, though again not impossible. There are many first come, first serve spots but that is a risky proposition to go to so much loading and driving to find everything full. You better have a backup plan if you go during summer holidays.
    Needless to say, Ga. State Parks, as well as the other recreation areas operated by the federal park services and other agencies, are popular. It’s something government is doing well, but also on a limited basis.
    We encourage our state lawmakers to look at the parks and see that they are operated profitably, but also to expand their offerings. If they can cover costs by renting campsites and offering activities, why not offer more? There is no reason not to expand an area of government that people actually like.
    Conservatives ought to take note that parks should be funded by user fees, not taxes. Those who want to fish, camp, hike and boat pay the cost.
    As a big added advantage to all people if the overnight stays can keep the basic amenities like trails open for free (or with a minimal parking fee), all Georgians benefit by being able to get outside and enjoy the great natural resources of this state.
    And, if you are looking for something to do this summer for a family that is healthy, stress free and affordable see what the parks do offer and is available.

County should do what is necessary to get mountain bike area rolling

    For those not following the story, The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) has permanently protected a 211-acre tract on the Pickens Gilmer line and encourages public use there.
    This is no small gift to the people here. The tax assessment value on the property is more than $1.5 million. In reality, like all large tracts, it wouldn’t sell for that – which is why it ended up with a land trust. But as growth slowly moves north, having a large and easily accessible tract permanently protected is a huge benefit for this county.
    At a public meeting in April with the land trust director and a mountain bike trail design professional, it was estimated that five miles of extraordinary trails plus parking, pavilions and other needs will cost around $250,000. The land trust and the North Georgia Mountain Bike Association jointly funded the $4,000 trail plan for the area.
    During the meeting, corporate sponsors and grants were identified as possible funding sources. The county was not asked for anything other than generally being cooperative. Commission Chair Rob Jones agreed they would help out. He offered a supportive, but non-specific, comment that they would be glad to partner where feasible.
    Hopefully a company will want a north Georgia park with their name or the grants will come through. If not, we believe the county should do whatever is necessary, including funding, to open these trails. We do not ask them to spend a potential quarter million of taxpayer dollars lightly.     Here is our reasoning:
    1. The park is the only thing on the drawing boards in years here that represents a bona fide new tourist destination. Located beside a big busy road that mainly sees people drive past us on the way to Ellijay and Blue Ridge, it’s obvious Pickens needs to offer more to attract tourist dollars.
    2. Once built, the park will require very little upkeep, yet should generate sales taxes and boost local businesses for decades. The trail designer said they don’t give economic impact projections as the trails are just “a draw.” It is up to local businesses to make money off the people. Very true.
    3. Several members of the Progress staff are occasional mountain bikers, who drive to counties both north and south to ride trails. Biking and hiking trips often involve a dinner or lunch, maybe a gas fill-up, and occasional quick stops at stores. We would be exaggerating if we said the impact of these trails would be monumental and immediate. It will be slow and steady but go on forever. Our staff will confirm that very large parking lots at existing trails in Cherokee County are always overflowing.
    4. A mountain bike trail could be the first step down a tourism opportunity corridor. Maybe the mountain biking leads to Frisbee golf and that leads to additional ventures on other pieces of property. The county needs something to get the ball rolling, just as developers find anchor businesses for commercial areas.
    One person at the April meeting asked about parking for  future trail running events there, another group was pondering a dog  park. Create a quality facility and it opens the door to new ideas before construction even starts.
    5. Economics aside, the trails, which would be very nice for hiking/running as well as biking, meet recreational needs. It was noted by the trail advocates at a hearing that neither kids nor adults venture into the woods with any regularity anymore. New mountain bike trails are designed for fun, nothing too challenging, so young riders will enjoy themselves. Having the property developed allows school groups, churches, Scouts, youth groups, family groups, adult hikers, civic clubs, bikers, birders to all have a place to go.
    6. While $250,000 is a sizeable chunk of taxpayer dollars, consider that the county has chronically under-funded recreation for decades. If we had the same mindset about county roads as we do our parks, there would still be mule barns here.
    On the other hand:    The only drawback we see to county funding/helping fund the park is the cost. But a county government spending $250,000 isn’t going to break the bank while it addresses a huge range of recreational and tourism development needs and it will eventually pay for itself.
    IF NO OTHER OPTIONS ARE FOUND - We encourage the board of commissioners to do what is necessary to get the fat tire bikes rolling.

Roadside trash for the soul

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    I decided early Sunday was the best time to make my first sweep as an Adopt-A-Road volunteer. Easy like Sunday Morning, to me, meant less traffic and a smaller chance I’d get creamed by oncoming motorists. 
    I’ve rolled around the idea of adopting a road for a few years, then during one of my “I’m-checking-off-my-list” days I had last month, I committed. I went by the Keep Pickens Beautiful headquarters (it’s that teeny tiny, green log building at the corner of Main and Church streets) and asked what I needed to do. I found out the process is simple: pick your road and select a one-mile section you agree to clean up at least four times a year. If the road you want isn’t claimed, it’s all yours. You get a sign with your name printed under the Adopt-A-Road logo and installed by a road crew.  
    My first choice - a one-mile stretch on Jerusalem Church Road - was available. Assuming my husband would want to help me pick up trash, I selected “The Reinhardt Family” for our sign verbage. They gave us two reflective vests, two of those long-handled claw things to ease trash pickup, a t-shirt and other free KPB swag. All we had to do was report the number of trash bags we gather to KPB.
    “Be careful,” one volunteer told us. “People don’t slow down on that road.”
    My drives to and from home were different after that.
    I came to realize people really don’t slow down on that road, and our stretch now seemed extremely long – much longer than I had remembered because I was imagining it in steps, not miles. I recalled a lady who spun off and crashed into a tree a few months ago inside our mile, and I noticed a patch of tire marks in the grass just off the edge of the pavement in one spot.
    But when my sign was installed two weeks ago - and the road was obnoxiously trashed - I decided this past Sunday was it, my maiden voyage into garbage collection.
    These were the highlights:
    •Trash collecting became an anthropology experiment. “If humans were judged on the trash on our roadsides,” I asked, “what would the conclusion be?”    
    •Last week our Shooting the Breeze column was with two guys from Nepal who bought a convenience store just north of town. They lived in poor conditions and were asked what stood out about America. The men were shocked by the amount of beverages we drink. Case in point, 90 percent of what I picked up were drink containers. Of those, more than half were energy drinks or beer cans and broken beer bottles. Bud Light is clearly the choice drink of litter tossers in my area.
    •Beyond drink containers, losing lottery tickets ranked second. They were all high dollar tickets, $20 and up, and every single one of the 15 or so I picked up were coiled, like someone got upset, wrung its neck and threw it out the window.
    •My anthropological conclusion? My mile of road was littered with vices: beer, energy drinks, chip bags and lottery tickets. If we were judged on our trash, the prognosis would be poor.
    •The most unusual items I found: a flat-screen television, slightly bent and filmed with dirt; a soiled diaper and three unopened beers - Bud Light, of course, which I opened and poured out to get rid of weight, spilling a good portion of one on my gloves in the process. 
    •A glass Coke bottle had taken up in an embankment. It was lying sideways, just a small portion showing itself through the dirt and moss. Plants had taken residence inside. I left it because it looked like a terrarium.
    •I had a fleeting, really embarrassing thought that a passerby might yell, “Thank you, Angela! Thank you for picking up our road!” This didn’t happen.
    •I realized there’s no easy way to do this. There’s no machine that’s going to dig out an old, torn tin can buried in the grass or pry out a napkin that’s partially dissolved and adhered to a log or a pile of sticks. It takes time.
    • I spent an hour-and-a-half picking up a half-mile of the street, just one side. In that half-mile, I collected two giant bags of garbage and a television set. 
    Picking up trash is like waiting tables; it’s something I think everyone should do to keep from being too self-important. I left sweaty, smelling of hot beer and trash juice, but I was fulfilled and gained a fresh, albeit odoriferous, perspective. I’m just one of dozens of people who have adopted their road in Pickens, and for the Great Clean Up Month this April I encourage you to do the same.    

Poor signage & other issues with Jasper parking limits

    Last Wednesday we reported that Jasper City Hall had given the green light for officers to begin ticketing cars parked for more than two hours along Main Street.
    By the time the day was over, we’d had several calls and comments, which began by a man upset there were no signs on the south end of Main Street notifying people of the parking limit.
    The caller was wrong; there are actually about as many signs there as on the rest of the street. But his lack of observation isn’t surprising. You have to search for the signage.
    The signs for those who haven’t spotted them yet are small white squares attached to the green lampposts. And, for some reason, they are mostly well over head-high and somewhat obscured by the streetscape trees.
    We judge the signage to be insufficient in most areas and thoroughly lacking on the end of town near the wooden bridge.
    People who park in spots not near the lampposts will not likely notice them. They’ll be (un)blissfully ignorant of the code, until they find that $20 ticket.
    The backstreets and side streets are marked even more haphazardly. There are no green lampposts off of Main, so no consistent pattern to where signs pop up. Walking along Mark Whitfield and Stegall streets, it is very difficult to surmise whether the intention is two-hour parking for the whole side street or just some sections or limited to particular parking spots.
    The signage is so inadequate, we would argue all tickets written thus far should be tossed out. [Editor’s Note: this isn’t personal as the Progress has a private lot so none of the staff has gotten a ticket.]
    A few other comments that were made to us on the new parking limit enforcement:
    • Overheard was a local attorney arguing that the signs say “2-hour parking customers only.” In his argument, this means it only applies to customers, not employees. A good observation on grammar but we’re not sure it will hold up in court.
    •Back to the poor signage, but this one is directed at the county, specifically the courthouse: There is absolutely nothing indicating there is a free, all-day parking lot behind the courthouse. It’s a steep grade up to the courthouse front door which harms the lot’s appeal along with a tram that operates whenever the mood strikes judicial/county officials. The first thing needed is something letting out-of-towners with court business know there is a lot for them.
    • There are very few handicapped spots in downtown Jasper. There are four right in front of the courthouse but practically none elsewhere and some blocks without any. This observation was pointed out to us for the first time last week. Before we call for more handicapped spaces, we’d like more  numbers on usage and user comments.
   • The parking limit enforcement revealed one fairly depressing fact. When you force all the employees who were parking for more than two-hours off Main Street, several areas look really deserted. The downtown may be much quieter commerce-wise than was previously assumed.
    • One person commented they felt the parking limit directed at employees made them feel second class. But we would retort, the employees do come second. Customers come first.
    • Some people groused that the tickets were a tactic by city hall to gain revenue. We’ll take up for city hall on this. The mayor and council were pushed in to this by people who believe more open parking is needed for downtown commerce. For revenue, the city could stop speeders all day long on the fourlane.
    • Several people commented something to the effect “where else are we going to park,” if not on Main Street all day. However, it appears with backstreets and the courthouse lot, there are plenty of spaces, but they may not be exactly where the parker wants them right at the moment. There is little available space on Main Street to add parking lots and it seems useless to add them if they are more than a two-minute walk out of the way. People won’t use them.
    For us, the jury is still out on whether the 2-hour limits will benefit downtown businesses. It’s certainly a worthwhile attempt to foster the local economy. But we strongly urge the city to take another look at signage, plus need/availability of handicapped spots.

Privacy matters even if we’re doing nothing wrong

    Last week the United States Justice Department dropped a high-profile showdown with Apple where they had sought to hack into  an iPhone 5C owned by one of the San Bernardino terror shooters.
    The government dropped it after they hacked the phone without help.
    In a world where we willingly share tons of details about ourselves, why should the privacy of things we have on our phones matter?
    Many people might say there is no really harm from the government tracking us with their mass surveillance. (If you drive your car around the United States, the government could know if you’ve been to a therapist or an Overeater’s Anonymous meeting thanks to Automatic License Plate Readers that capture images of every passing.)
    Sounds like a good technique for catching terrorists or general thugs huh? Some believe there is no harm from this large-scale invasion of privacy - only people involved in bad acts have a reason to hide right?
    We good people who use our cars or the internet to go to work, come home, raise our children, plan outings, or just buy junk from Amazon have no reason to fear the government, right? We don’t use the internet to plot attacks, we’re just using it to post pictures of our kid’s latest dance recital.
    But  even if we are not doing anything wrong, privacy matters. The ability to have private thoughts is essential to our psyche. There’s a reason we still take steps to safeguard our privacy, putting passwords on our social media accounts and locks on our doors. Even if he’s a friendly neighbor, we still don’t want him to stand outside and look through the windows. Nor do we want co-workers reading our personal e-mails. No matter how mundane or boring, you don’t want anyone snooping in your life.
    In his TED Talk, Glenn Greenwald, one of the first reporters to see the Edward Snowden files with their revelations about the United States’ extensive surveillance of citizens, said humans may be social animals with a need for others to know what we’re doing (that’s why there’s 300 million photos posted daily on Facebook), it is equally essential for us to have a place that we can be free of judgmental eyes.
    “There’s a reason why we seek that out, and our reason is that all of us - not just terrorists and criminals - have things to hide. There are all sorts of things that we do and think that we’re willing to tell our physician or our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouse or our best friend that we would be mortified for the rest of the world to learn,” Greenwald said.
    He points out there are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant.
    Privacy is important to limit government power and the power of private sector companies. The more they know about us, the more power they can have over us. Privacy is about respecting individuals and our freedom of thought. A watchful eye over everything we read or watch can stop us from exploring ideas outside the mainstream.
    Knowing you’re being watched changes everything you do. Mass surveillance takes away our inherent freedoms and breeds conformity. It’s not about “the good people vs. the bad people,” it’s about what privacy means as a whole.
    If we allow constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.
    So when the government wants to hack into one person’s iPhone they are really seeking to hack into everyone’s.