It’s a good news, bad news situation for Lake Lanier. While visitation, even in the time of COVID-19, is up at least 30 percent over last year, vandalism has also increased. Add the strong winds and destructive storm that hit the south end of the lake in August, and the public is having to make do with less.

Tim Rainey, US Army Corps of Engineer’s operations project manager at Lake Lanier, said that visitation this year has greatly increased, as people look for ways to get outdoors during the pandemic. “I’d say visitation is up at least 30 percent, and that’s a very low estimate.

“Because of budget constraints, we’ve not been able to address storm damage or the upsurge in park vandalism,” Rainey said. “We are close to awarding a contract to clean up and make storm-damage repairs from the August storm. But to add to the demands on the budget, on Labor Day Weekend vandals destroyed both the men’s and women’s bathrooms at Van Pugh Park. It’s just senseless for people to tear up public property, especially when it takes away resources that so many people have been using when they come to the lake.”

The damage to Van Pugh Park, which is temporarily closed because of the August storm, was deliberate and extensive. Vandals tore up the metal door and door frames to the bathrooms, ripped the tile off and punched holes in the walls, broke sinks, ripped off toilet-paper holders and soap dispensers and have made the facilities unusable for the foreseeable future.

“The contract for the storm clean-up and repairs will be awarded soon, but that money is earmarked for storm-damage only,” he said.

“However, with this type of vandalism, we simply do not have any money left in our non-routine maintenance funding this fiscal year to make these repairs,” Rainey said. “We’re at the end of our fiscal year, and we’ve already used our non-routine maintenance money. It will be at least the middle of December before more funds are available, and then we will need to prioritize what it’s spent on.

“We can hope to have the restrooms back and operational by next spring in Van Pugh,” he said. “If not, we may have to open the park without these facilities.”

In addition to storm damage and excessively high-water levels so far in 2020, the Corps has been faced with an inordinate amount of additional maintenance costs. For instance, leadership made the decision last spring to close Old Federal Park Campgrounds because of erosion caused by high water levels. Water had washed behind the rock bulkheads and caused washouts in the park, making it unsafe for the public. When acts of vandalism occur, it compounds the demands on federal funding.

“This case of vandalism is not rare here at the lake,” Rainey said. “You’d be surprised at the number of times people have come into the parks with destructive behavior. Then it’s up to us as the Corps to come up with the funding to make repairs. Add that to the normal wear-and-tear of our facilities, especially in a year when visitation has increased so much, and it’s not good news. The public relies on these facilities for their enjoyment of Lake Lanier, its parks, and its resources. To me, it’s just a senseless waste of resources and very unfortunate that someone would feel the need to do this kind of damage.”