A deal between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the City of Columbus could turn over management of Standing Boy Creek to the city next year, according to interviews and documents obtained from Ledger-Inquirer.
Negotiations continue between the state natural resources department, the city and Standing Boy Inc., a nonprofit that manages the property’s biking and multi-use trail system. The 1,580-acre property on the shore of Lake Oliver is a DNR wildlife management area.
City officials offered few details regarding the proposal. State officials outlined the potential deal in letters sent to Standing Boy Inc. representatives and in interviews with the Ledger-Inquirer. Attempts to contact Blake Melton, chairman of Standing Boy Inc., before publication were unsuccessful.
The Georgia DNR said it’s willing to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the city. Columbus would not pay the state as part of the agreement. However, the city would be responsible for repairs, improvements, maintenance, utilities and other costs associated with the park. The state wants certain hunting opportunities on the property to remain.
The Columbus Council would have to approve any agreement, said city manager Isaiah Hugley.
Jeff Cown, director of DNR’s State Parks & Historic Sites program, told the Ledger-Inquirer the city has an interest in managing the property because of the trails. It’s also easier for the state to have the city maintain Standing Boy.
“For DNR, (the trails) are what it is mainly used for. It’s easier in our view, at this time, that they handle that instead of us, ”he said. “It’s easier for them to maintain. It would also cost us money to staff people to maintain it. “
Plans to build a state park at Standing Boy Creek didn’t materialize after the state acquired the property in separate tracks in 2001 and 2002 for roughly 8.5 million. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue issued an executive order Establishing the area as a Heritage Preserve in 2004.
Preliminary talks about transferring management to the city began in 2016 after Standing Boy Inc. completed a master plan for trails on the property, Cown said.
As recently as 2017, DNR officials said there was no money for developing the site, and it would cost $ 15-18 million over 10 years to develop.
Under the proposed agreement, Columbus would take over the management of Standing Boy, leaving the city responsible for the park’s expenses. Cown told the Ledger-Inquirer that the state would like certain kinds of hunting to remain allowed at the property. Current regulations allow hunting at Standing Boy through Feb. 1, 2023, giving the state a possible transition date.
“At such time, the City of Columbus agrees to provide for, at no cost to the Department and with prior approval, the construction of all improvements and renovations necessary for the premises to be used for the authorized purposes, and the city agrees to equip and operate the premises at no cost to the Department (including all utilities), ”DNR Commissioner Mark Williams told Melton in a December 2021 letter. “The City shall be responsible, at their sole cost and expense, for all repairs and maintenance for the premises.”
Hugley told the Ledger-Inquirer conversations with the state have been going on for a while and that talks are close.
“(A proposal) has not gotten to me at this point,” he said. “We’ve been working with them for a while, and I think it’s getting closer. I need to check how close that is. “
Hugley added that he has not been “hands-on” with the project and recommended the Ledger-Inquirer speak with Deputy City Managers Lisa Goodwin and Pam Hodge for further details. Hodge did not return a phone call seeking comment. Goodwin offered no further details.
“I really can’t tell you more than we are in discussions and will be happy to share once we get further along,” Goodwin said in a text message.
The agreement would be between the state and the city. The city would then determine how it would work with Standing Boy Inc., Cown said.
The group’s 2021 revised trails master plan said it was working with the state and the city on an agreement to “allow for better and more efficient management of the property and trail system.”
The group’s goal is to build trails for beginner-to-advanced mountain bikers as well as some multi-use trails. The group proposes 34 trail segments to be built on the property, and the report states 16 have been completed.
Costs for natural surface trail development of the remaining segments are estimated at more than $ 1 million. Those costs don’t include the building of parking lots, roads, bike paths and other items. The nonprofit has raised more than 2.2 million to implement its master plan. The goal is 2.5 million, according to Standing Boy Inc.’s website.
“The majority of new trails will be designed and constructed with mountain bikes as the primary visitor, with careful consideration for hikers and runners to be sure their needs and wants will also be met,” according to the group’s master plan.
This story was originally published March 24, 2022 5:00 AM.