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Parking gets ‘Wild’ around spring break

LaGRANGE – The Troup County Board of Commissioners reviewed a request on Thursday to consider creating a no parking zone on Oak Grove Road to discourage visitors to the Wild Animal Safari from parking on the sides of the road during busy weekends.

The park’s two parking lots are usually adequate to contain parking for park guests, but last weekend’s record park turnout highlighted a need to review the parking situation which locals were concerned was becoming a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians.

“We have had complaints come in this week about vehicles parked on both sides of Oak Grove Road near the Wild Animal Safari entrance on Saturdays and Sundays causing some hazards to the travel,” said County Engineer James Emery. “That is a 55-mile per hour road, that is not extremely wide. I think it is a 20- or 22-foot-wide road, and the shoulders are not real wide, and so when vehicles park along the shoulders, they are right on the white line. You’ve got families exiting those vehicles and entering those vehicles with children and even babies in strollers.”

While recognizing the problem that the cars parked on the side of the road caused, Emery was hesitant to recommend a no parking zone due to the rarity of its necessity.

“A no parking zone might certainly solve the problem, but in discussions with residents in the area and with the Wild Animal Safari management, what I’m learning is that this is a problem that is extremely rare, although it is reoccurring. It is expected to reoccur unless something changes, but there are some changes that they are working on right now.”

Parking problems have been of the greatest concern during the weekends surrounding spring break when the Wild Animal Safari’s two parking lots fill with visiting families. The park is in the process of creating a third lot to accommodate that parking overflow as needed. Other parking areas that might be safer than Oak Grove Road were discussed, but county employees seemed to feel that it would be best for guests to park at the park over any other location, especially in light of past disputes between the park and its neighbors.

“I would say from staff perspective, we should not say any road is acceptable,” said Senior Building Official Jay Anderson. “Any commercial industrial standard is you have your parking on your property, never on the right of way. It doesn’t matter if it is a quiet or side road or whatever. It (parking) has to be on your own property, and we do the same for agri-tourism applications and rural tourism applications. It says that you have to be on your own property. … I agree it can be gravel (in the parking lot), especially since this is the overflow of the overflow of the overflow. It can be as cheap as you can make it, but you’ve got to make it.”

The owner of the park has hundreds of acres of undeveloped property that could be used for the additional parking, though shuttle service may be necessary for some guests due to the distance from the entrance. However, commissioners did express a desire to be consistent in requirements for parking for all businesses in the county, meaning that additional on-site parking would be a necessary for the park.

“The fact that when it comes to agri-tourism… some people have had to jump through a lot of hoops concerning parking and all – I would never want to discourage anyone from conducting business – but fair is fair, and danger is danger,” said Commissioner Lewis Davis. “… It’s just not fair to allow them to use (the side of the road) even if it wasn’t dangerous.”

While it would be difficult to predict when guests will decide to visit the park, park employees did attempt to help guests who had to park on the road during the weekend’s parking situation, and the idea of having off duty deputies help direct traffic on spring break weekends was suggested as a possible safety measure that could be implemented. Temporary signs that could be placed further up the road to warn the public of the traffic danger were also noted as a temporary solution until the additional parking area is ready for use.

A public hearing on what action the county should take regarding parking on Oak Grove Road is scheduled for Tuesday at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Ave.

Reach Alicia B. Hill at alicia.hill@lagrangenews.com or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.