A large crowd came to show their support for the Flint River Outdoor Center (FROC) at this week’s Upson County Board of Commissioners meeting. Recently, the FROC received a letter from the board stating after June 30, 2014, they would no longer be allowed to bus individuals through their shuttle service into Sprewell Bluff for commercial use, due to a change in the county’s park ordinance which requires prior approval from the board for any commercial activity in the park. Several citizens voiced their opinions on the matter to the board Tuesday night.
The matter at hand began when Commissioner Hudson stated he received numerous complaints from citizens wondering why they had to pay to go into the park, but the FROC did not. He stated when the Department of Natural Resources owned the park; they issued the FROC a yearly permit to operate a canoe rental service for the fee of $100, which the county did as well when they took over the park in 2013. However, when he re-read the permit, he noticed it stated that all persons the FROC took into the park were required to have the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass (GORP). Hudson alleged the FROC never offered to make canoe renters purchase a pass.
Dana Fowler was the first to speak and she told the board how passionate she is about the Flint River and how much she values the park at Sprewell Bluff. Fowler also thanked the board for the improvements that have already been made at the county-owned park, such as the picnic pavilions and stated she is in support of charging the $5 fee to get in. While she does not want to see anyone be put out of business, she feels that one business that uses the park more than the rest and it is only fair if they are charged the same as everyone else.
Margie and Jim McDaniel, who own the FROC, have maintained they have purchased the permits for their 15 passenger vans which are used as a shuttle service from their business to Sprewell Bluff and the county made no mention of paying any other fees in the past year since taking over the park.
Bobby Booker stated he hoped something could be worked out between the board and the FROC because it would be a shame to not have the business there. He noted the McDaniel’s and their business have been an integral part of all the search and rescue missions that have taken place on the Flint River in the last nearly four decades.
Joey Thiel echoed his sentiments stating how the McDaniel’s have given food, water and shelter to those working on the missions and noted Jimmy McDaniel has risked his own life to help save others on the river, for which he received an Award of Valor from the Georgia Emergency Management Association. He continued stating how valuable a resource McDaniel is when it comes to rescue missions because no one has the knowledge of the river like he does and many times he is the first person out searching. Thiel noted the FROC brings revenue to Upson County because people come from all over to float the river and use the canoe center, while staying in hotels in Thomaston.
“If you want to do something so in the future, the future businesses have to do it, but this man has been has been making a living off that natural resource for almost 40 years. So to walk in and just say ‘Hey we are going to take it today, that is wrong guys.”
The commissioners made no comment on the matter Tuesday evening, but a meeting between county officials and the county’s lawyer and the FROC and their lawyer was scheduled to take place Thursday. No information on that meeting was available at press time. The Thomaston Times will bring you more information on the matter as it becomes available.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1