Columbia County officials hooked a whopper four years ago with the project to turn Wildwood Park into a haven for major fishing tournaments.
Taxpayers invested more than $1.1 million to create tournament-quality boat-launch ramps and an expanded parking facility for trailers. Then, just a few months ago, the county spent another $105,000 to extend the ramps to compensate for low water levels at Clarks Hill Lake.
Those investments continue to pay benefits. This year, the county has landed another season of tournaments that will launch from Wildwood, starting Super Bowl weekend with a televised BASS/ESPN event.
Beda Johnson, the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau director, says these tournaments routinely inject $200,000 or more into Columbia County's economy, so they're no small fry.
Columbia County is thus poised to benefit immediately from Gov. Sonny Perdue's 2007 budget proposal to build tournament-quality fishing sites all over the state.
Perdue wants to spend $19 million to "turn Georgia into a fisherman's paradise," he announced during his annual State of the State address last week. The "Go Fish Georgia" initiative would create a "bass trail" of major boat-launch sites on 15 major rivers and lakes in the state.
The creation of a "trail" that raises the visibility of Georgia as a fishing destination undoubtedly will boost the profile of Wildwood, opening the door to even more tournaments and attracting additional investment for improvements to cater to the hundreds of visiting anglers.
"The governor's 'Go Fish Georgia' campaign is going to be a tremendous opportunity for Columbia County and the other members of the Clarks Hill Lake Partnership," Johnson says. "The truly exciting part of this effort is that we'll be included in the new official Georgia Fishing Trail that is being developed by the state - a marketing initiative will be included that will put information about Clarks Hill in the hands of interested anglers."
Now, there is a caveat to all this, one that Johnson also recognizes: Columbia County, which built its tournament facilities with local dollars, will now find itself competing with other, state-funded facilities.
The handful of other communities around the state that have already invested in tournament-grade facilities shouldn't be penalized for their vision. When lawmakers fine-tune this proposal, they should ensure that state investments are made only in communities that also spend local dollars on the projects.
Let the state bait the hook - but require those communities to reel in those improvements themselves.
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