Dade one of 12 North Georgia counties urging governor to close state parks, Cloudland Canyon

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Cloudland Canyon State Park, as seen from the main overlook on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

The Dade County Commission has joined 11 other counties in North Georgia asking Gov. Brian Kemp to close down state parks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Residents in Dade County have been calling for Cloudland Canyon State Park to be closed for weeks. Over the last weekend of March, hundreds of people flocked to the park from all over Georgia and neighboring states as confirmed cases in Georgia continued to rise.

State Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, and Dade County Commission Chairman Ted Rumley spoke with Kemp and his office about closing the park before the governor issued a statewide shelter-in-place order. After the order was issued, state parks remained open despite a call to close them.

On Monday, the leaders of 12 counties in North Georgia wrote a letter asking Kemp to close the parks.

County leaders wrote the influx of people in their communities has had a "staggering detrimental" effect on resources and that they worry about the strain local hospitals could see if visitors continue to visit state parks.

"While we are blessed to live in such a beautiful and abundant area of Georgia that hosts so many wonderful state parks, our constituents are highly concerned about the increased traffic to our area during the statewide shelter-in-place order," the letter reads. "A significant portion of this increased traffic is coming from COVID-19 hot spots such as Atlanta or from areas outside our state."

The letter was spearheaded by Habersham County Commission chairwoman Stacy Hall and fellow commissioner Tim Stamey. The counties include Banks, Dade, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources did limit visitors to 150 at a time at Cloudland Canyon, but area residents wanted it completely shut down.

The 12 county leaders echoed that sentiment, saying the continued operation of the parks is "stressing our community's resources in a substantial manner."

Last week, Rumley said if the governor didn't take any action the Dade County Sheriff's Department could patrol the highway that leads to Cloudland Canyon State Park to prevent outsiders from visiting the park.

As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, the governor's office had not responded to the letter.

Read the full letter here.

Contact Patrick Filbin at [email protected] or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.