Unless some state funding arrives soon, Chattahoochee Park in southeastern Houston County may have registered its last official visitor.
Houston County’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget includes no funds for the park, which has been closed since Hurricane Michael struck the area on Oct. 11, 2018, said Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver. Michael’s eye wall passed over the park while the storm still produced Category 3 winds, causing significant damage to the park’s facilities and one of its most alluring features – the trees.
“You can’t replace all the beauty,” he said. “You can’t get to the facilities. There are no facilities to get to. You can’t conduct the disabled hunting because there are no trees. There’s no wildlife. It’s an unfortunate situation.”
While Federal Emergency Management Agency money helped the county clean downed trees from the access road and the campground areas, more money is needed to make the park operational, said Barkley Kirkland, Houston County chief engineer. Further cleanup is required, as are repairs to electrical infrastructure and the relocation of the campground to a more appealing location, like the lake.
County officials estimate to revamp the park would cost about $250,000. They have asked state officials to split the cost of those repairs given the park is still on state land, but they have not received any indication the state will fund the request.
If the state grants the request, county officials would then analyze if demand would warrant investing the time and money into the facility. In most years, the park generated between $14,000 and $16,000 annually in revenue, but it cost the county about $70,000 a year to operate, Kirkland said.
“We would consider opening it if we believe people would use it,” Culver said. “There’s some historic stuff down there, but at the same time, people went down there because of nature and beauty.”
Culver said a Facebook post indicated the park has permanently closed, which he said is “probably” an accurate statement at this time. He said he would not give up on Chattahoochee Park until the state officially denied the request for funding help.
Some discussions may indicate that will not likely happen. Additionally the county has managed the park since the early 1990s after the state then considered closing it permanently.
“It’s (the state’s) intent to let it grow back naturally,” Culver said. “We’re waiting (for an answer), but we’re not overly optimistic.”
County officials must finalize the 2020 budget by the end of the month, which is why they currently have not included any funding for Chattahoochee Park.