The ground is broken at Hartwell Lakeside as officials prepare to bring the nearly 10-year project to its full potential.
City, county, state and federal officials gathered alongside the public Tuesday morning at the entrance of Hartwell Lakeside, formerly Hart State Park, for a groundbreaking ceremony at the recently opened park.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who helped negotiate the city of Hartwell’s lease of the park through the Army Corps of Engineers, ceremoniously shoveled dirt next to new campground operator Barry Stern, Hartwell Mayor Brandon Johnson and city councilman Tray Hicks.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” city manager Jon Herschell said at the ceremony. “...The thing that comes to mind for me is persistence. I had a football coach that said ‘persistence pays off’ and I don’t think that’s more true than this project right now.”
Stern, who began operating the campground at the park in April after the city’s lease was finalized in February, spoke at the ceremony and said his first impression of Hartwell was that it was a beautiful place and that city officials truly cared about it.
Collins spoke at the ceremony and said he’s helped work on negotiations in this project since he took office more than seven years ago. He said this shows what can happen when local, state and federal officials work together to serve the public.
“Think about those in the future who are going to get to make memories coming here,” Collins said. “Families who bring their kids. Families who have that first bike ride. They have that first swim. They have concerts here. They have weddings. They do the things that mean the most to communities. So for me, this is simply just an affirmation that when you come together, when you’re able to put the right people in the room together, and actually talk to each other, that’s what makes this country great and that’s what makes this part of the world great.”
Stern, who is running the campground as a Kampgrounds of America franchise, spoke with The Sun after the ceremony and said the park will be adding a “teepee village” with authentic Native American teepees that should be completed this fall.
“These are huge. They’ll be furnished, at first they won’t, but they’ll be furnished, air conditioned, heated, and that’s going to be a central piece,” Stern said.
Cabins are also planned for the park, Stern said, and possibly camping “cocoons.”
“It’s all about camping for all levels,” Stern said.
Stern said the city’s current dispute with the county regarding the annexation of the park shouldn’t affect any of the plans for the campground.
After the ceremony, Collins told The Sun that a lot of discussion and planning went into making the park come to fruition.
The U.S. Senate candidate also had some advice for county and city officials who have been at odds with each other over the city’s attempt to annex the park.
“Keep talking and remember it’s not about them at the end of the day,” Collins said. “And I mean that for either side. It’s about bringing people together to find a solution. What we lack so much today are solutions. And so when we do that it restores trust, it restores confidence.”