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County to partner with citizens, DNR on Silver Lake concerns

Representatives of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Decatur County government pledged to work together more closely in the future to ensure citizens have the information and access they need regarding usage of the Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Silver Lake, which was purchased in part by $2.3 million contributed by Decatur County, is located in the southwestern portion of the county between the Bethany community and Lake Seminole. At their Tuesday night meeting, Decatur County Commissioners heard from two citizens who had concerns about using the wildlife management area.

Andrew Heard, who is president of Bainbridge Trailblazers, a local group of horseback riding enthusiasts, said he had experienced problems in obtaining permission and assistance from DNR officials to hold an organized trail ride in November. Heard explained that in the past, the Trailblazers had held organized rides between Decatur County and Bonifay, Fla. For the past three years, they’ve been doing more limited rides within the county and were hoping to ride within the Silver Lake WMA and camp out there this fall.

After initially getting what he thought was approval, Heard said he was sent documents suggesting his group would need substantial liability insurance, provide portable restrooms and pay a $500 bond/usage fee. However, Brandon Rutledge, a senior wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Albany office, stated the documents were only an example of what was needed for organized usage of a WMA. He said it would probably be possible for the Trailblazers or a similarly-sized group to agree to the terms of a simple letter of agreement drawn up by regional DNR officials. The liability insurance and bond amount were flexible, he said.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Palmer Rich suggested Rutledge and other DNR officials sit down with Heard and another citizen, A.J. Braswell, who had concerns about access to hunting areas and the usage of motorized vehicles for hunting purposes.

Other commissioners agreed better communication was needed between citizens, local officials and Georgia DNR. Rutledge said DNR officials are aware of citizens’ concerns but are presently limited by budget and personnel constraints.