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Georgia parks system finalist for national award

WINDER - Most weekends, Amy Dean and her friends pull a recreational vehicle from Lawrenceville to Winder to spend a quiet weekend fishing on Fort Yargo State Park's 260-acre lake.

"It's close, and it's so quiet and clean," Dean said. "It's a great fishing lake. Many people don't realize how nice Yargo is."

The low-cost, mini-vacation leaves her feeling rested and recharged for the week ahead, she said.

Those qualities might earn Fort Yargo and its 63 sister state parks and historic sites a national award. The Georgia park system is competing against systems in Tennessee and Utah for the National Recreation and Park Association's "Gold Medal Excellence in Park and Recreation Management" award.

The winner will be announced

Sept. 26 at the 2007 NRPA Congress and Exposition in Indianapolis.

The three systems were nominated for excellence in long-range planning, resource management, environmental stewardship, program and professional development, volunteerism and the ability to meet the needs of a diverse population.

Fort Yargo's campgrounds fill almost every weekend, even in the wintertime when the Georgia Bulldogs play a home game.

"A large percentage of our visitors are people coming up and down (Interstate) 85," said Artie Doughty, a senior park ranger.

Like Roger and Denise McAfee, school teachers from Dublin. They made a two-day stop over at Fort Yargo part of their drive to Helen.

Fort Yargo is one of the few state parks located inside a city's limits. The park was created in 1954 when families donated the land to the state park system. Part of that property was already inside Winder. The city annexed the remainder in the 1990s, giving the park quick access to Winder's police, fire and emergency medical services.

Gwinnett County is home to no state parks, although Fort Yargo and Hard Labor Creek in Rutledge are within an easy drive. Georgia's state parks preserve such diverse natural areas as canyons (Cloudland and Providence), the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi (Amicalola, at 729 feet) and low country coastal areas.

A short video produced with the help of Georgia Public Broadcasting is presented as part of the finalist application process. An edited version of that video can be seen at www.georgiastateparks.org.