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Governor's fishing plan could help McDuffie lure tourism

Georgia's governor is hoping a $19 million lure will bring fishing enthusiasts - and, more importantly, their tourism dollars - to the state.

And McDuffie County could be in line to help make the cast.During his "State of the State" address last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue focused on a plan - which includes money for 15 boat ramps along rivers and lakes to attract fans of bass fishing - called "Go Fish Georgia." Those ramps, Gov. Perdue said, could lure tournaments with the possibility of generating $20 million apiece.

"Fishing is a huge industry in the South, and we're behind many of our neighbors in attracting those anglers," Gov. Perdue said. "We will no longer sit by and watch as tourists drive through Georgia on their way to surrounding states to fish."

With miles and miles of shoreline on Clarks Hill, McDuffie County could end up a destination spot for those tourists.

Forward McDuffie Director Don Powers said the local lake is a great place to invest state dollars.

"This is a perfect example of where we can use the Clarks Hill Partnership to focus our efforts, ensuring that Clarks Hill Lake is in on this build-up of facilities and promotion," Mr. Powers said. "It is a perfect opportunity for the five county partnership to trumpet the 'regional' concept of economic development."

Mr. Powers said he plans to enlist State Sen. Jim Whitehead's help in securing some local dollars - especially if those dollars are to be used for regional improvements.

"At various times over the past several years, we've had conversations with (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) officials about the Mistletoe State Park ramps, and how they need to be upgraded and expanded," Mr. Powers said. "A combination of an upgraded Mistletoe and Columbia County's Wildwood Park would be quite a draw for the fishing business, of which we already enjoy a considerable amount."

Three years ago, Columbia County finished a $1.1 million six-lane ramp and bass tournament facility at Wildwood Park on the lake, which last year has hosted several tournaments for anglers.

Georgia's bass fishing "trail" would be similar to one developed by Alabama in 2000. It, according to Georgia DNR officials, brought in $100 million in the first two years.

"Alabama's capitalized," said Charles Coomer, chief of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' fishery section. "In Georgia, there's been so few facilities, there's not been much opportunity to grow here."

The difference is particularly noticeable when bordering states with bigger facilities host the tournaments - and spectators - but the boats end up floating in Georgia anyway.

"What happens is a lot of the large tournaments work off the South Carolina or Alabama sides," said Rep. John Heard, R-Lawrenceville, a member of the House Natural Resources and Environment committee who also owns a boat dealership on Lake Oconee. "We provide the waters, but we don't get the resources off the thousands that are doing the business or the lodging or the rest like that on the other side of the state line."

Web posted on Thursday, January 18, 2007

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