New camping rules at Tobesofkee’s parks rile extended-stayers

Bibb County seems to have a vision for the newly rebuilt Arrowhead Park at Lake Tobesofkee that could turn away some of its most dedicated campers.

In trying to explain the new Arrowhead and Claystone park restrictions on “extended-stay” camping to eight disgruntled campers last week, Steve Layson, the county’s chief administrative officer, found room for candor.

“We’re moving away from this being a trailer park where you live, and more of a destination,” he said.

New rules launched this month prevent campers from staying in one spot for more than two weeks. At Arrowhead and Claystone parks, campers now have to pack up and at least move to a new campsite every 14 days.

The campers, many of whom would be paying about $25 a night to park their recreational vehicles, say the county’s missing out on lucrative revenue especially during slow times, when the campground is essentially empty. About one in 10 of Arrowhead’s 52 spots was filled Friday afternoon.

Randy Puckett of Macon, who sets up his 36-foot motor home every other weekend, said both sides of the issue have a point. Puckett wants more support for Arrowhead that could come from rent, but he doesn’t like the debris that can come with long-term stays.

“I do see both sides. I don’t see a problem by people staying, especially in the winter months,” he said. But he cautioned: “Don’t let it look like a trailer park, because (the county) just put a lot of money in it to keep it look nice.”

Judy Hampton, a spokeswoman for the group of extended-stay campers, is a retired school counselor who plans to spend the next few months at campgrounds in Byron, Stone Mountain and Jekyll Island. She said solving any problems with extended-stay campers is incredibly simple: Rangers must tell people they have to keep their areas clean or leave.

Anything else is discrimination, Hampton said.

“You’re trying to degrade somebody because of a lifestyle choice, and I think the United States of America is designed for freedom of choice,” she said.

Henry Gibson, a retired Macon police captain, told commissioners last week that Arrowhead has plenty of room.

“Just me and my dog and my wife have got the whole campground,” Gibson said.

Gibson was due to leave Friday, but commissioners extended his stay in the same campsite up to 10 days after he said health problems — including congestive heart failure — leave him struggling to load and disconnect his trailer. He said he wouldn’t have the energy to move it and reconnect everything at another site, as the new county rules require.

Doug Furney, director of Lake Tobesofkee and its parks and campgrounds, said the county campgrounds’ rules are patterned after, but more relaxed than, rules at state and Georgia Power campgrounds.

A state spokesman said state parks limit campers to two-week stays under a decades-old policy. The campers must leave for three days before returning, unlike in Bibb County’s campgrounds.

Furney said Arrowhead and Claystone already are regional attractions, with campers coming from all across Georgia.

Many of those people have said they don’t want the extended-stay campers, some of whom Furney said accumulate more stuff the longer they stay.

“They bring grills in and extra vehicles, just boxes and stuff, and they start stacking it around the campsite,” he said.

Georgia RV parks with monthly rates typically charge $300 to $500 a month, a survey of privately owned campgrounds distributed by Hampton showed. Hampton said the county would benefit from that money. That’s cheaper than rent in many places, and utilities are typically provided. Arrowhead and Claystone rent RV spots with sewer for $25.

But Hampton said she’s paying about as much for the loan on her 38-foot RV as she was on her last Bibb County mortgage.

Bibb commissioners last week directed Furney to further study the situation, including rental rates, the extended-stay policy and whether part of the campground could be turned into places for extended-stay campers.

Commissioner Joe Allen opposes permanent residency in the county’s parks.

“It’s not right to live at that lake,” he said in the meeting. “It’s not a place to rent. It’s a place to come for a time.”

At Puckett’s Arrowhead campsite for the weekend, a group of nine geese squawked as they swept over his motorhome, as Mackenzie, his rat terrier bulldog, nestled in Puckett’s lap. He reflected on the park he’s been coming to regularly for 20 or 25 years.

“It’s beautiful out here,” he said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.