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Dykstra: Rockdales leadership steps up to support a natural treasure
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I did two stints working in Washington, D.C., for a total of 12 years.  It probably won’t come as a shock to hear that I came away from it all with some bi-partisan disdain and mistrust for government.

But that makes it important to give a shout-out when something goes right.  I’ve been really impressed by Rockdale County’s efforts to support a natural treasure that’s right here in the county.

The South River and the Rockdale River Trail are almost-daily stops for me.  Stretches of the river are downright beautiful.  The paved trail is now complete from the Monastery to the DeKalb line and well beyond.  In a few years when the whole project is complete, you’ll be able to walk or cycle from the Monastery to Alabama if you’re so inclined.  There are also unpaved trails that offer some solitude, and an occasional spider web in the face, for hikers and horses. This is a real gift for the community. 

When Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division called a public hearing for comments on Atlanta’s request for five more years’ permission to dump untreated sewage into the South River, the City of Conyers and the Rockdale County Commission were the only local governments to speak up:  Henry, Newton and DeKalb Counties took a pass.  So did state legislators from both parties.  The South River is much cleaner, and the sewage dumps far less frequent, than they used to be.  But the 43 year-old Clean Water Act was supposed to stop all such dumping.  Atlanta wants to flout the law for five more years, and the State appears poised to allow it. Rockdale is almost alone in putting up a fight.

The State Department of Natural Resources held a “public meeting” last month to discuss their plans to drain the Alexander Lakes in southwest Rockdale, on the site of the old Southerness Golf Course. The reason for is surely a valid one:  The almost 60 year-old dams on the Lakes are unstable, and they need inspection and fixing.  The plan, which doesn’t yet have a timetable, is that one of the lakes will not be restored.  But there’s been no tangible effort to inform or include the people who use the Lakes every day for fishing and other recreation.

There’s a bulletin board at the Alexander Lakes part of Panola State Park.  It has information on how to rent a boat on the Lakes.  But it doesn’t tell you that the Lakes may soon be empty.  That’s some real disrespect for some regular users of the State Park.  Rockdale Chairman Richard Oden and Commissioner Doreen Williams showed up at the public meeting.  They’re asking questions about the state’s plans, and seeking a better solution for it all.  Thanks.

And let’s keep this bi-partisan:  Thanks also to former Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, who was and is well-informed and fully engaged on issues involving the parks and the river.

What I think is the most beautiful spot in Rockdale is Albert Shoals.  The selfish part of me is tempted to not tell you where it is, but since a lot of folks with spray paint cans and heaps of discarded beer and drink containers have already found it, the Shoals are a series of rapids (Class Four, if you’re a kayaker) and a four-foot waterfall off Daniels Bridge Road on the river.

In the larger scope of things, trash, vandalism, drinking and drug use are petty crimes – not the biggest challenges in Rockdale, or anywhere else.  But put together drunken kids, slippery rocks, and a 4r-foot waterfall and you’ve got a potential tragedy to prevent, as well as the desire to keep a beautiful place looking beautiful.

Beginning in early May, the Rockdale County Sheriffs Office began more aggressive patrols of this remote area.  The stronger presence down there is a big service to the residents of the area and users of the river and the trail.  Thanks go to Sheriff Levett, Chief Freeman, Captain Sonya Cordero and their team.

I feel like I’m about to break out in a rash from saying so many nice things about people in government, but here are two more to round it out:  Jackie Lunsford and her Parks and Recreation team, and Dwight Wicks of Rockdale Water Resources have also been active and productive in supporting this asset for all of us.

The South River and its Rockdale neighbor, the Yellow River, have untapped potential for recreation for county residents and visitors.  Rockdale’s leadership, and key county departments, recognize this, and their efforts are appreciated.  

Keep this up and I’ll have to start liking Government again.


Peter Dykstra is a former CNN Executive Producer who now works for the news websites and  He can be heard weekly on Public Radio International’s “Living On Earth” at 3 p.m. Sundays on WABE 90.1 FM.