CLOUDLAND CANYON, Ga. — A dozen nature-lovers came Thursday night to Cloudland Canyon State Park — to talk business.
Since 2009, Georgia has halved its funding for state parks and historic sites. So every one of them has had to develop "site business plans" with such goals as "enhanced cost recovery" and "enhanced revenue generation strategies," according to a Powerpoint presentation given at Cloudland Canyon's Interpretive Center.
"We've been mandated to be more self-sustaining," Park Manager Bobby Wilson said.
So park supporters came with ideas.
"I think you have a golden opportunity for equestrian-generated revenue," said Trenton Mayor Anthony Emmanuel, who's also a director of the Backcountry Horsemen of Northwest Georgia.
Emmanuel thinks that for very little money, the park could create primitive camping sites for backcountry horse riding and allow a concessionaire to guide rides.
"They'll spend money," Emmanuel said of backcountry horse riders. "You're not into horseback riding to save money."
Chattanooga resident Barry Smith pitched the idea of building a "pump track," or dirt bicycle track with undulating hills on which bikers move by pumping up and down. He thinks it would require less than an acre of space near the park's disc golf course.
"It kind of fits that type of user," said Smith, who helped create a pump track at Enterprise South Nature Park as well as one that's opening near Raccoon Mountain.
Wilson thought both ideas were good.
Thanks to its waterfalls, miles-long mountaintop views and other natural wonders, Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia's best-loved parks and had been operating in the black even before the cutbacks.
The $1 million yurt campground that opened in December is on track to make $100,000 a year and pay for itself in a decade, Wilson said.
"The yurts are doing very well," he said. The park's already had 512 yurt rental nights at $70 per night, Smith said.
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Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.