Farmers Plant Seeds
About 35 people showed up at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville tonight to hear citizen activist Russ Page talk about a proposal for a park surrounding Elder Mill Bridge and Elder Mill itself and two Oconee County officials say why the plan for a county park is not feasible.
Page said he has been working on the park for more than two years because he is “convinced the area needs to be protected.” He said that to accomplish this “will take some good ideas from a lot of people.”
Peggy Holcomb, director of tourism for Oconee County, said in the last three years she has only taken 27 groups to see the wooden covered bridge off SR 15 in the southern part of the county and a park “would not be a money maker for us.”
Later in the meeting, however, Holcomb acknowledged that she uses Eagle Tavern in downtown Watkinsville and the Elder Mill Bridge heavily in her promotional materials for the county. She said the bridge also is in the state tourism guidebook, the Antebellum tour guidebook and the Southern Living tour book.
“We use that covered bridge for just about any publication that we use,” she said.
Wayne Provost, strategic and long-range planning director for the county, said the county is expected to cut between $1 and $1.5 million from the budget this year and that money for a county park just isn’t likely to be available.
He said it is necessary to allocate money for maintenance and operation of a park, not just for land acquisition.
Page was undeterred. He said he is a farmer, and farmers plant seeds. He hopes a park will be the outcome.
Jonathan R. Veit organized and moderated the forum, which lasted for an hour and 20 minutes.
Among those attending was Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton and Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis.
Davis said he was in favor of preserving the mill near the bridge because of its historic value to the county. Horton left before the public discussion of the three presentations by Page, Holcomb and Provost and did not speak.
Page said he has set up an account at Athens Land Trust for those who wish to donate money for the park. The check should be sent do and made payable to Athens Land Trust, 2109 W. Broad street, Athens, GA 30606, and contain the notation “for Elder Mill Bridge.”
It also is possible to donate online using the Athens Land Trust donation tool. (At present, it isn't possible to designate "for" except in an address line.)
A complete video recording of the session, including the slide presentation by Page showing pictures from the bridge, the mill and Rose Creek, which flows under the bridge and beside the mill, is on Vimeo.