With 84-acre Bidd Sands Lake behind them, officials ceremonially broke ground Wednesday for the $1 million first phase of a potential $2 million project that will make the Evans County Public Fishing Area unlike other Georgia PFAs.
The Evans County PFA has long had an area designated for primitive camping, with no water, sewer or power connections. But the first phase of the project will add 25 sites equipped for recreational vehicle and tent camping, plus a comfort station with shower-equipped restrooms. This will be similar to camping areas in state parks, which are operated by a different division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. But it will be a first for a fishing area operated by the fisheries program of the DNR Wildlife Resources Division.
“This is our first foray into RV camping, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity to see what we can provide for the anglers and the visitors here in the area,” DNR Chief of Fisheries John Biagi told the Statesboro Herald.
The Evans County PFA is about eight miles east of Claxton, where it is accessed from U.S. Highway 280 via Sunbury Road and the unpaved Area Line Road. Its main attractions have always been the three fish-stocked lakes, measuring 84 acres, 30 acres and eight acres, but it also has nature trails, an archery range added a few years ago, and an office with attached public restrooms.
Last year the fisheries staff constructed a group picnic shelter near the eight-acre lake with previous funding. Also in 2016, the PFA returned to seven-day operation after several years when it was open five days a week during state budget restrictions.
Now, state and local officials hope to see an increase in usage.
“This public fishing area averaged 10,000 guests per year, and we’re looking forward to adding even more amenities to the new campground located right up here on this hill that will have 25 beautiful lakeside sites,” said Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams.
Late next summer
He cited “late summer of 2018” as the expected completion date for this phase. Williams, Wildlife Resources Division Director Rusty Garrison and DNR Board Chair Duncan Johnson Jr., as well as Biagi and Regional Fisheries Supervisor Tim Barrett, all took part in the groundbreaking.
Evans County’s state legislators, Sen. Hill, R-Reidsville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, had speaking roles. They successfully sought the project’s $1 million first-phase funding in the current, fiscal year 2018 budget.
The second-phase proposal includes an enclosed pavilion and a new dock nearer the camping area. But these would require further funding, in the fiscal year 2019 budget. That is not a sure thing, Hill said when asked.
“The plan is about $2 million total, and there’s about a million dollars in the FY ’18 budget, so Representative Werkheiser and I will be working on it, but you never know from one year to the next,” he said.
Ideas for the project took shape after a visit Hill made to the site more than a year ago after hearing from interested Evans County citizens, he said in his public remarks.
“It began with an idea that we ought to do more with it than what we’re doing, that it’s a tremendous asset to our community and this whole part of the state, and I think that we’ll see as time moves on this is going to be a wonderful success story for our part of the state,” Hill said.
One question, how campers will pay for their campsites at a lightly staffed fishing area, has been overtaken by technology, Hill said.
An app for that
The Wildlife Resources Division has a software app used to pay hunting and fishing license fees from smartphones and tablets, Biagi explained. The plan is to provide a similar app that campers can use to reserve campsites at the fishing area in advance or to pay with a credit card when they arrive, he said.
“So there wouldn’t be any money changing hands here,” Biagi said. “It would be all handled administratively, remotely.”
All of the campsites will have electrical and water hookups, and some will also have full sewer hookups, he said. A sewer dump station is also part of the plan. The state does not yet have a contractor but is getting the project ready for bids, officials said.
Evans County Commission Chair Jill Griffin confirmed that local people sought the further development of the fishing area.
“Numerous times this public fishing area has been referred to as a hidden gem,” Griffin said. “I agree that it has been hidden, but the leadership in Evans County has realized its value, and we are grateful to be standing here today to expand on what is offered here and what it means to our local economy.”
Area Manager Steve Mincey, in charge at the site, said people have long asked about the possibility of RV camping.
“We’ve had folks asking about it for years and years and years, so now it’s another adventure that we’re fixing to dive into,” he said.
Members of the local Sands family also attended. W.D. and Carson Sands built private lakes before the state leased them for public use in 1972 and then bought the site and expanded it in 1980. It now encompasses 372 acres.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.