Those awaiting the fate of Columbus’ Standing Boy Creek State Wildlife Management Area should not miss the public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Columbus Public Library.
Note that the time is 7 p.m., and not 6 p.m. as previously announced, and it is at the library, not the City Service Center across the street, where the state Department of Natural Resources held two previous public meetings on turning the wildlife area into a state park.
The last was Feb. 23, 2017, when a DNR consultant presented a park plan that looked like a fantasy land of frolicking family fun.
It had bike trails and an archery range and disc golf and ziplines; and a main entrance with a visitors center and staff housing and parking; a 3½- to 4-acre dog park; a 6½- to 7-acre “large event lawn;” a “large event pavilion” with parking and a capacity for 200 to 300 visitors; a “small event lawn;” a splash pad and playground; bus parking for a nature trail; yurts, tree houses and 12 cottages; a boat launch; a fishing pier; 10 miles of hiking trails; and 20 miles of mountain bike trails.
And an alpine slide. Steep topography amidst Standing Boy’s 1,580 acres of undeveloped land – off Old River Road along Lake Oliver 10 miles north of downtown – makes it suitable for an alpine slide, consultants said.
“That sounds pretty insane,” a neighboring resident said.
And it did, because the project would have cost $15 to $18 million to build over 10 years and required constant staffing and maintenance. It didn’t seem like the state would be throwing that kind of money into a recurring expense.
Some of Standing Boy’s neighbors were not pleased with a DreamLand Bikes, Bows, Arrows & RVs going in next door, and they also were vexed that the state didn’t tell the public about the public meeting, until I called DNR after seeing a notice posted on a network of local mountain-bike enthusiasts urging turnout to support their trails.
That did not happen this time. This time the state didn’t tell the public until someone from a mountain-bike group announced the meeting July 27 at Columbus’ Wild & Scenic Film Festival, after which I called DNR again, and then it gave notice of the meeting Aug. 2.
Twice I drove up to Standing Boy to see if anything about the meeting was posted there, and nothing was. A sign says visitors have to pay user fees – worth noting because everyone who pays to use state land should have access. Other notices refer to the hunts held there in season – also worth noting because hunters pay to use that land, too.
Blake Melton, the treasurer of SORBA, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, announced this DNR meeting at the July film festival. He was on a steering committee set up to advise the state on developing Standing Boy.
The state held an initial public meeting here June 7, 2016, to ask people what they’d like in a state park. The followup to that was the meeting last year with the alpine slide.
Now the alpine slide is off the table, apparently, and offline, too: State links that once led to that consultant’s design are dead.
This time the state will present “proposed” bike trails totaling 25 miles, the design and construction of which are to be paid from a $1.5 million “Standing Boy Trails Fund” already set up at the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley Inc.
This fund was established in March, with Melton, Reggie Luther, Gardiner Garrard and John Turner as its advisers. The Community Foundation still must enter into a contract or memorandum of understanding with the state to spell out the details.
I asked Friday what the state’s next step will be, and whether the DNR board has to approve this in a public meeting, and a DNR spokesman said it does not.
“This decision will be made internally,” he wrote in an email. “Next steps would be site design and environmental and archaeological surveys.”
While the plan now is for 25 miles of bike trails with a gravel parking lot, you don’t have to hire a consultant to imagine more.
“A big show of support at the meeting is important not only to secure an agreement with DNR for the construction of multi-use trails, but also to help our efforts further down the road,” reads an email a local bicycle network circulated Friday: “For those that attend in support of the project, please do not be shy about speaking up in favor. ... If you have a particular interest or unique perspective please make sure to speak to that as well (e.g., attracting and retaining skilled workers, high-school mountain bike racing, tourism, etc.).”
So it could be a long meeting. But that’s OK: We expect people to lobby for their own special interest.
We also expect the state to be open and forthcoming about what it does with public land.