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DNR to charge for riding trails at Silver Lake

A new access pass, called the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass (GORP), will be required for visitors to some wildlife areas beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recently announced.

Locally, the pass will be required for people who want to go horseback riding in the Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area in Decatur County. The pass will also be needed by people who want to use the shooting range at the Mayhaw WMA in Miller County.

In all, the GORP will be required for various types of recreation on 32 affected properties in Georgia. Each area is managed for wildlife, habitat and outdoors activities, work that previously was funded mostly by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, said Dan Forster, director of the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division. However, those areas often were heavily used by secondary activities such as hiking, cycling, birding and more, according to the DNR.

Decatur County Commissioner Russell Smith, who is also part of an organized horse riding group, expressed some concerns about the new fee.

His first concern is the principle of charging Decatur County residents money to access part of Silver Lake, even after county commissioners — and thus local taxpayers — contributed $3 million toward acquiring the 8,430-acre property at a total cost of $38.6 million.

Smith said he understands the state government’s budget situation, but disagrees with Silver Lake and/or trail riding being “singled out” to pay for their use of the WMA.

“[DNR officials] have been talking about creating some really nice riding trails at Silver Lake, modeling them after some in north Georgia,” Smith said. “If that turns out to be the case, then I don’t think anyone would have a problem paying the pass fee. But we use county mowers to help maintain the roads out there; and that’s what we use for horse riding.”

 

Exceptions

At the 32 WMAs affected, the pass is required for visitors ages 16-64, but not for those who have a valid WMA stamp, or an honorary, sportsmen’s, lifetime or three-day hunting and fishing license.

At Silver Lake, the pass will only be required for people wanting to use the riding trails. Groups of eight or fewer people can get a discounted rate. Larger, organized groups should contact the WMA’s regional Game Management Office to arrange for a Right of Entry agreement. The DNR’s Southwest Georgia Game Management office is located at 2024 Newton Road in Albany. Its phone number is (229) 430-4254.

Smith said his riding group has camped out and ridden around the Silver Lake WMA in the past. Then, it had to sign a Right of Entry agreement, a process he said was easy and did not cost anything.

 

How to buy the pass

A GORP for an individual costs $3.50 (three days) and $19 (annual) for individuals. For groups of eight or fewer people, a GORP is $10 (three days) and $35 (annual).

The GORP will go on sale beginning Nov. 1, 2011. It is available at www.georgiawildlife.com/recreational-licenses, by calling 1-800-366-2661 or via retail license agents. A high-value version called GORP Plus ($3.50) is available only to Georgia residents and covers three days access, plus hunting and fishing privileges.

For more information or to see a list of areas, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/Georgia-Outdoor-Recreational-Pass.