After a $2 million state investment over two fiscal years through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Evans County Public Fishing Area now has a climate-controlled indoor event space and 22 developed campsites with water and electricity.
This makes the 372-acre public fishing area with its three long-established lakes and archery range unlike any other PFA managed by the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, and more like a state park. Additionally, the Evans County government and the Georgia Department of Transportation together put a little over $1 million into paving a highway-like 0.7-mile access road, so total public spending related to the improvements totals about $3 million.
The impetus for the upgrade came from local people who wanted to see more done with the fishing area, said state Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville. Speaking after introductory remarks by Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams during the Oct. 3 ceremony, Hill credited the DNR for “being willing to think outside the box.”
“This is the first campsite facility that has been developed in a public fishing area,” Hill said. “As you know, the public fishing areas are pretty much passive, and really no money changes hands. This is the first facility that will step into that arena, and we hope as time goes by, as the use of it grows and opens up new opportunities, we’ll see where that leads us.”
Georgia’s public fishing areas have long been supported with funds from fishing licenses, and the state previously required special add-on permits – now discontinued – for PFAs and wildlife management areas. But specific service fees, such as those for camping, were reserved for state parks and historic sites, which are operated by a separate DNR division.
With campsite and group shelter rental fees now being collected for the Evans County PFA, both Hill and Williams suggested that it could become a model for additions to other PFAs.
Bidd Sands Lake
Before cutting a ribbon in front of the 2,500-square-foot “group shelter,” or events building, officials joined family members and a comrade-in-arms in dedicating the lake behind it in memory Capt. William D. “Bidd” Sands III.
A U.S. Army Ranger and company commander, Sands was 27 when he was killed in action in the area known as the Valley of Tears near Pleiku, Vietnam, on March 22, 1967. He was the first of four young men from Evans County who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, noted his cousin Jimmy Sands, a former Evans County commissioner.
Under Capt. Bidd Sands’ command, Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry consisted of 106 soldiers. When they were surrounded by an estimated 800 North Vietnamese Army regulars, 22 members of Company A were killed and another 43 were wounded, but the unit held its ground for 12 hours until relieved by other U.S. forces.
Sands was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. These were among seven Silver Stars, 55 Purple Hearts and numerous Bronze Star medals awarded to soldiers in the company. One member received a Medal of Honor.
“We want to dedicate this unique natural area to the glory of God that put it here to start with; secondly, to honor all United States military veterans, not just Bidd. We’re here to remember Bidd, but we want to honor all of them,” said Jimmy Sands.
Several other members of the family stood near a model plaque of dedication as he unveiled it. The permanent plaque, with details about Bidd Sands and his unit, had yet to arrive.
Standing with them was Simon Geisler, who had been a sergeant in Sands’ company. Geisler and his wife drove six and a half hours from Sarasota, Florida, to attend the ceremony.
“I was proud to serve with him,” Geisler said.
Wooden signs marking “Bidd Sands Lake” have stood on its banks for years, but officials said there had never been a formal dedication.
Helped build it
Well over half a century ago, Sands had helped his brother Carson Sands and their father, W.D. Sands, build the lake on what was then family land. Covering 84 acres, the lake remains the largest in the Evans County PFA, where the others measure 30 acres and eight acres.
The Evans County Public Fishing Area is east of the town of Daisy and near the Canoochee River where it forms the boundary of Evans and Bryan counties. From U.S. Highway 280, it is accessed via Sunbury Road and from there left onto the newly paved access road, previously a narrow dirt road. The Georgia DOT supplied about $375,000 for the road construction, with the county covering the rest of the budgeted cost of under $1.1 million, said Evans County Administrator Casey Burkhalter.
Of the 22 campsites, 14 are full-size recreational vehicle (camping trailer or self-propelled camper) and tent sites, while eight are sized for tent camping only. But each campsite has a picnic table, a fire ring and a lantern stand, all in a graveled area, and all have electrical and water connections. Five of the RV sites are premium sites with full sewer service and pull-through parking pads.
The camping area also includes a newly built comfort station, containing four “family” restrooms, each containing a single flush toilet, sink and shower.
What the DNR officially calls the Evans County PFA’s new “group shelter,” is a rentable meeting building. It includes a full-service kitchen, indoor restrooms and a pavilion. Measuring about 2,500 square feet, it can accommodate up to 85 people in compliance with fire regulations.
The Claxton-Evans County Chamber of Commerce hosted a reception there for people who attended the ceremony.
“I know the chamber knows that fishing is more than just recreational pastime, it is going to be great tourism for this community and this area of the state,” said Williams, the state DNR chief. “In fact, these are some pretty big stats: over 1 million anglers fish in Georgia each year, and these anglers spend $1.3 billion – that’s with a ‘B’ – in retail sales, ultimately having an economic impact on this state of $2.1 billion. So thank you, fishermen.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.