A variety of land conservation, restoration and parks projects across the state would land the first round of funding through the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act voters approved in November 2018.
A state House subcommittee Wednesday approved 14 projects to be funded with $20 million raised through a new tax on purchases of sporting goods. More than 83% of Georgia voters ratified a constitutional amendment creating the tax.
“We have a growing state,” Mark Williams, commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), told members of the subcommittee. “We need to have a place for people to spend time with their families and enjoy the outdoors.”
State agencies, local governments and nonprofit conservation groups submitted 58 project applications last year worth more than $78 million. An advisory board created by the legislation worked with the DNR to select projects based on their conservation and recreational value and whether the benefits they would bring would be or regional or statewide significance.
“We had no bad projects,” said Rob Stokes, the program coordinator for the DNR. “It just got so competitive these are the cream of the crop for this year.”
Among the projects selected were six the DNR submitted, including $3.5 million for the first phase of the planned acquisition of the Ceylon property and $2.6 million to acquire 7,000 acres of undeveloped land at Cabin Bluff. Portions of both tidal marshland properties in Camden County are slated to become new wildlife management areas.
Three of the other DNR projects would involve restoration of longleaf pine forests, including one restoration project related to recovery from the damage wreaked by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
Other projects on the list include parks projects in Forsyth County and the city of Johns Creek, $2.3 million to fund a portion of a planned canoeing and kayaking trail on the Chattahoochee River that eventually will connect Lake Lanier with Chattahoochee Bend State Park, and an extension of the Atlanta Beltline’s Westside Trail.
Under the legislation that created the program, the project list the House subcommittee adopted Wednesday will go straight to the Georgia Senate. However, the House will get to weigh in on the $20 million allocated for the program’s first year as part of the budget process.
Dave Williams writes for the Capitol Beat News Service