Photo Credit: Brian P. Smarr/U.S. Navy
If all goes according to plan this summer, the seven sailboats at Sandy Creek Park will be saved from Athens-Clarke County’s auction list and will remain at Lake Chapman. But the question is who will own the boats, and will Athens residents actually use them this time?
After the boats saw years of limited use, ACC Leisure Services marked them as “surplus property,” and the Lake Lanier Junior Sailing Club expressed interest in bidding on them for this year’s summer sailing camp. When that fell through and Athens groups wanted to use the boats instead, ACC commissioners decided to move them off the list for public sale. The boats—six one-person boats and a 20-foot Highlander—have faced a rocky history during the past decade in Athens, particularly because Lake Chapman isn’t so rocky.
“Chapman is a challenging lake because there’s not a lot of wind,” Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy says. “We’ve had hopes of beginning a sailing program, but we haven’t been able to get a program going.”
Plus, Sandy Creek Park didn’t have a sailing dock or boathouse that would support a stronger sailing program, says former ACC Commissioner Carl Jordan. Throughout the years, the one-person boats were stored in racks and had to be carried down to the water, set up and disassembled for each lesson, which hindered easy access and preparation.
“A program like this has to be built, and once Leisure Services was reorganized, the boating program was discontinued,” Jordan says. “The interest waned, and the boats have sat here without use other than a few times a year.”
Now a local Boy Scout Troop wants the boats for a sailing program. Jordan brought the troop leaders, Michele and Paul Matthews, to the ACC Commission meeting in early June. The troop expressed interest in the boats, and several commissioners supported the idea. To donate the boats instead of selling them through an auction, the county must follow specific criteria. Robert Hiss, ACC assistant manager for administrative and community services, is coordinating with the attorney’s office to determine how the transaction should take place.
“Under Georgia law, options are limited in terms of what local governments can do,” Hiss says. “The traditional approach is the auction process, but we want to explore this other option for the commissioners and nonprofit groups that are interested.”
One key factor is that a nonprofit group must use the boats for the same goal as the original public purpose of the property. That means ACC residents must benefit, and the boats will likely remain at Lake Chapman for public use. “It sounds like a great idea,” says Commissioner Jerry NeSmith. “That’s our goal.”
The boats were first donated to Sandy Creek Park in November 2007 by retired University of Georgia professor Bob Saveland, coach of the UGA Sailing Club. Saveland, who was recognized in early June as one of 10 Georgians given the highest French honor for his service at D-Day, gave the boats to Athens to “cultivate an appreciation for the environment.” He wanted to spark a love for sailing within the county so residents didn’t have to travel hours away to North Georgia or the coast.
In 2008, UGA Sailing Club members gave free rides and lessons on safety, knots, tacking and jibing. Leisure Services planned to start a community sailing club that summer. Then, Saveland founded Community Boating of Athens, a nonprofit that offered boating days one Sunday per month between March–September. Even at age 92, in June 2013 he took small groups out on the boats. The nonprofit has since disbanded.
“Despite repeated efforts to initiate a program, there hasn’t been a big interest from the community in sailing,” Reidy says.
Will a new purpose redirect the boats’ destiny? Hiss predicts a changeover will take place before the summer ends. In the meantime, ACC residents can continue to rent canoes and kayaks on Lake Chapman at Sandy Creek Park and for individual use.
“Professor Saveland was generous in his contribution years ago,” NeSmith says. “We need to honor that generosity and try to use these boats in accordance with his wishes.”