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Counties to cooperate on developing lake tourism

Officials from five counties will gather later this month in McDuffie County to talk about ways they can work together to better utilize Clarks Hill Lake and possibly spur regional economic development.

Leaders from McDuffie, Columbia, Lincoln, Warren and Wilkes counties are invited to the meeting at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport on June 14, said McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. The meeting will be the second for Columbia, Lincoln and McDuffie leaders.

"The lake is such a jewel in each of our communities," he said. "I think by working together we can get a little more sparkle for everyone."

Forward McDuffie Executive Director Don Powers said a potential resort project in Lincoln County, coupled with the development of bass fishing facilities in Columbia County and the potential that the Mistletoe Park holds, is just the tip of the iceberg.

"All of it speaks to these counties as things we ought to be aware of, we ought to be working together on, and we ought to be maximizing the regional opportunities," Mr. Powers said. "That's really what it is about."

Part of the driving force behind the partnership talks is State Sen. Jim Whitehead, who said the biggest benefit for McDuffie County could be an extra 300 or so feet of runway space - enough to make the airport more appealing to corporate jets.

Officials have already requested money for the runway extension from the Georgia Department of Transportation and are now awaiting their response.

Sen. Whitehead said the idea for the partnership was spurred by his Wednesdays with Whitehead sessions, where he meets with officials in each of his counties every six weeks.

"I kept hearing the same thing over and over about what everybody wanted to do," he said.

It was at one of those meetings with McDuffie County officials that someone mentioned that the local airport had more than 170 touchdowns from Masters visitors because it was quicker to get to the Augusta National from Thomson.

And that got Mr. Whitehead wondering about corporate jets for the rest of the year.

"If they can get to the Augusta National quicker from McDuffie County, then they can get to these other counties pretty quick too," he said.

The partnership would put on paper relationships that already exist. For example, when a bass tournament comes to Wildwood Park in Columbia County or Amity Park in Lincoln County, many of the fishermen park their boats in front of hotels - like White Columns - in McDuffie County.

"It just makes sense for us," Mr. Powers said. "We are excited about it."

Columbia County leaders see the burgeoning partnership as a way to tap into some state grants they aren't currently eligible for.

Take, for example, One Georgia funds, said Columbia County Development Authority Director Zack Daffin. Columbia County alone is not able to apply for One Georgia funding, which, in part, is passed out to counties if they are considered rural. However, Mr. Daffin said, Columbia County can benefit from such funding if it applies with a county such as McDuffie.

He said such funding could be used for economic development infrastructure near Thurmond Lake, a resource Columbia, McDuffie and Lincoln counties share and are looking to promote.

"As things come up where we see that we can support one another, we're doing so,'' he said.

The partnership talk between the counties heated up earlier this year after a plan called the Augusta Regional Partnership, which involved Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties, was shot down by Richmond County officials.

Mr. Daffin said Columbia County continues to stay in contact with Richmond County development officials and will do so when the region is to be promoted for events such as the Augusta Showcase.

"We think it just makes sense that we all work together because of the tremendous asset we have in the lake," Mr. Daffin said.

Reports from Morris News Service Writer Preston Sparks were used in this article.



Web posted on Thursday, June 9, 2005











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