Originally created 02/09/02

Park's future is bright



WINDER, Ga. - Paul Bradshaw of Fort Yargo State Park is a happy man.

In the year and a half since he took over as superintendent of the 1,814-acre park, Mr. Bradshaw has successfully secured nearly $1.2 million from the state Department of Natural Resources - money that will be appropriated over the next two years to renovate and modernize both the park and the adjoining Camp Will-A-Way, a facility designed specifically for children with disabilities.

Mr. Bradshaw beams while discussing the future of the park, a place he views as one of the region's most important natural resources, despite years of overuse and insufficient maintenance.

Located between Athens and Atlanta off Georgia Highway 81, the park is one of the few state parks between the two metropolitan areas.

"We're a big slice of wilderness within an hour's drive of a million people," Mr. Bradshaw said, adding that the park is consistently one of the most visited in the state.

In fact, Fort Yargo has remained among the six most-visited state parks over the past five years. Because of heavy use, Mr. Bradshaw says, the park is in serious need of both an aesthetic and a physical upgrade.

"I would say ... we've had no major renovations here in probably 10 or 15 years," he said.

Mr. Bradshaw points to waterfront park cabins built more than 20 years ago that lack insulation and proper roofing. Also in need of repair are campsites and shower and restroom facilities.

Camp Will-A-Way was the first of its kind in the United States when it was built in the early 1970s. But its cabins lack air conditioning, and its playground equipment has been battered by the elements.

All that's about to change, however, as Mr. Bradshaw, with the help of some dedicated local volunteers and the Friends of Fort Yargo State Park, begins the first phase of renovation, with $175,000 in funding. The money is going to revitalize the park bathrooms and shower facilities.

The park boasts a 260-acre man-made lake, three waterfront cabins, a small beach and two large campgrounds able to accommodate tents and recreational vehicles, along with picnic tables, rentable paddleboats and canoes, and playgrounds galore.

But Camp Will-A-Way is the real jewel of the park, according to Auburn resident Whitney Smith. The camp welcomes about 30 groups a year, mostly children with disabilities out for an educational excursion in a natural setting.

Will-A-Way will receive the bulk of the funding - $750,000 to upgrade heating and cooling facilities in the cabins and to modernize existing structures to make the facility usable year-round.

"We're a big slice of wilderness within an hour's drive of a million people." - Paul Bradshaw, Fort Yargo State Park superintendent