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Close north Georgia state parks, commissioners urge Gov. Kemp

Pandemic visitation 'like 4th of July'

TALLULAH FALLS, Ga. — Gov. Brian Kemp is getting more pressure to close more recreation areas during the COVID-19 quarantine season.

Commissioners from eight Georgia counties have asked him to close seven popular state parks north of Atlanta – which they say are getting heavy use from metro Atlanta families.  

Tallulah Gorge State Park in northeast Georgia is a popular destination much of the year – and car tags in its visitor center showed plenty of metro Atlanta interest Tuesday.  The park would be one of seven north Georgia parks the state would temporarily close – if local commissioners contacting the governor had their way.  

"The past three weekends have been to levels that we only see during Fourth of July. Or even more people than that. It’s been extreme," said Tim Stamey, a member of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners. Tallulah Gorge straddles the Habersham and Rabun County line.

Stamey is backing a letter from eight county commissioners representing Tallulah Gorge and other north Georgia state parks – expressing concern to Gov. Kemp about “increased traffic ... coming from COVID-19 hot spots such as Atlanta” and from out of state.  

RELATED: Here's what happens if you violate Georgia's stay-at-home order

Some of Kemp’s staff have actually encouraged Georgians to visit state parks during the coronavirus pandemic. But Stamey said while the open spaces of the state park can handle the volume of visitors, the amenities nearby can't. 

"Our stores have been crowded, especially the little ones up here in the mountains, have been packed from people outside the area," Stamey said.

The request to close the parks adds to pressure the governor has gotten to close beaches at Tybee and St. Simons along the Georgia coast. And it’s not just the governor. Some counties like Cobb have shut down locally-run parks.  

RELATED: Georgia shelter-in-place order reopens beaches, Tybee Island mayor takes issue

On a conference call in Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms heard from city council members again Tuesday about crowds on the Atlanta BeltLine – which the mayor said have thinned considerably.

"The information that I am receiving, and then running past our public health professionals, is that right now we are not at the point that we need to close down our parks and BeltLine," Bottoms told council members.

RELATED: City councilmembers to Mayor Bottoms: Crack down more on social distancing

Bottoms did announce "guidelines" to govern use of the BeltLine, urging seniors and medically compromised individuals to use it before 10 a.m.; urging people seeking exercise to use it between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and folks using it for transportation after 2 p.m.

RELATED: New restrictions in place for Atlanta BeltLine

Gov. Kemp's office did not respond to requests for comment regarding the request to close north Georgia parks. 

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