Study: Improve facilities at Lake Tobesofkee

Improvements to current facilities and new attractions would help attract more visitors to Lake Tobesofkee, a marketing and analysis study of the area shows.

New attractions could include a children’s water park, a “safe zone” for kayaks and canoes, a conference center and hiking and biking trails, according to the study from Athens-based Opinion Research Solutions.

“People think that what we have here is a jewel. It just needs to be developed,” said Ruthann Lariscy, president of the marketing and public opinion firm.

Lariscy, along with CEO Jeff Springston and Chris Wood of JWA Public Communications, presented the results of the study to the Bibb County Commission on Tuesday.

The multi-method study, conducted between December and March and cost a little more than $36,000, is the result of interviews, town hall meetings and surveys examining future uses for the lake.

For years, the county has been looking at different uses for Tobesofkee. After last year’s Mother’s Day tornado severely damaged the parks around the lake, commissioners began to look at what they could do to not only rebuild but also improve the area.

As it is, the lake currently is under-used, the study states.

While the vast majority of 400 survey participants said they were aware of the lake, 75 percent have never used the facilities. However, many said they would if the facilities were updated and upgraded.

“Being aware that it’s over here and being really knowledgeable of what the park has to offer are two different things,” Springston said. “Even to the people who are aware that it’s there, the majority of the people aren’t using the lake, at least right now.”

Those who do use the lake and its parks, which include Sandy Beach, Arrowhead, Claystone and the lesser-known Duck Pond and Flint Rock, said they mostly go to swim, fish, boat, hike, camp or bike.

When it came to upgrading the lake, survey respondents most supported the development of a conference center that would serve about 200 people, cabins, additional restrooms, more covered pavilions and a children’s water park area.

Many think the amenities should be self-supporting, which the lake currently is not. That has long been a point of concern for commissioners, who would like to find additional ways to produce revenue at Tobesofkee. Of the lake’s $1.3 million budget, about $700,000 comes from the county’s general fund.

A conference center — envisioned as a scaled-down version of the convention facility at Lake Blackshear in Cordele — would attract groups looking for a convenient wooded location to hold events and small conferences, officials said.

“You could do this same thing (like at Lake Blackshear), and it would be an hour closer for people out of Atlanta,” Springston said.

A small children’s water park, and perhaps an Olympic-sized pool, would help attract families to the lake, especially those who are concerned about being in open water, Springston said.

But before the county can add new amenities, there’s a desire to first upgrade the current facilities, the study shows. The facilities most in need of upgrade are the restrooms, pavilions and park office, which also serves as a greeting center. Facilities also could be more handicapped accessible, according to the study. The study gives county leaders a lot of ideas to consider, Commission Chairman Sam Hart said.

The county already has begun upgrading some of its facilities as it rebuilds Arrowhead Park, Hart said.

The next step is holding a work session to set priorities, develop a master plan and establish partnerships with other groups who can help make some of the ideas a reality, he said.

The lake receives about $250,000 to $300,000 per year from the hotel/motel tax, and Hart said those funds, along with private partnerships, can be leveraged for improvements.

“I’m looking forward to this,” Commissioner Joe Allen said. “Tobesofkee is not just something for the people of Bibb County, but all of Middle Georgia.”

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.