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The Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area, located in southern Decatur County, is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, but one that is largely unknown to people who aren’t avid hunters and fishermen.
We took a trip down to the Silver Lake WMA Thursday, May 15, with the hopes of finding out more information about what it can be used for, what rules exist for its usage, and even what the best way to get there is.
Having been to Silver Lake before when former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and other state officials announced its acquisition, I remembered one way: from Bainbridge, start out Spring Creek Road (Georgia 253 South). Shortly after the River Oaks subdivision, there is a fork in the road; the left fork is for Ten Mile Still Road, which runs through Silver Lake and dead-ends at Lake Seminole proper. Dustin Dowdy and I set off that way based on my memory alone, as there were no signs at the fork in the road. As we later discovered, there are no signs for Silver Lake posted at the major intersection of Georgia Highway 253 (Spring Creek Road) and Georgia Highway 310 (Yates Spring Road).
In my personal opinion, Ten Mile Still Road, though paved, is pretty rough. I understand that local and state governments are still in budget-crunch mode after the recession, but re-paving and possibly widening the routes to Silver Lake should be a priority if it is to become a destination for regional visitors. About 8 miles down Ten Mill Still Road, I noticed a small road sign to the right; at the last second I realized it said Silver Lake Road but it was too late, we passed it. Just after Silver Lake Road, there is another road to the left that is marked by a sign that says “WMA Checkpoint” with an arrow.
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But I knew that wasn’t the way I had gone before, and after making a phone call to make sure that yes, Silver Lake Road takes you to the main entrance to Silver Lake (although continuing down Ten Mile Still Road leads to other parts of the WMA), we turned around and went back down the dirt road.
We soon found the “checkpoint,” which was really a covered information board. When we went, the board had information about Panic Pond, a trophy bass pond that is only open on the weekend, and there was a clipboard with a sign-in sheet for people who had been taking part in the turkey quota hunt at Silver Lake. Scanning the list, many of the hunters were from Bainbridge or Donalsonville, but there was one from Fort Myers, Fla., and another name from Columbus, Ga. Dustin said the covered area might be a good place to post some of the rules and requirements for Silver Lake, as well as seasonal information.
There is no charge to hike or sight-see at Silver Lake, but there are some requirements for fishing, horse-riding and camping (see “What You Will Need,” below). None of those were posted, although they are available on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ website, www.georgiawildlife.com Although Decatur County maintains the roads and mows grass along them, there is nobody posted on site at Silver Lake. There is 3G cell service, but other than calling 911 in an emergency, there are no resources listed to call for non-emergency situations–for example, if you wanted to ask DNR a question. Although there are a few small buildings near the checkpoint, presumably built when Silver Lake was privately managed by International Paper, there are no public buildings, and hence, no restrooms. That is somewhat of a drawback, considering there are nice areas to picnic or camp at near the main entrance to Silver Lake.
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Driving around the Silver Lake WMA without a map is possible, but we wouldn’t recommend it. There are signs pointing the way to various ponds, and the roadways are circuitous in nature, meaning more than likely you’ll end up back near where you started. We also noticed that on some signposts, there were unlabeled blue arrows which we deduced pointed the way back to the main entrance. I used Google Maps on my phone (which you can now use with no data connection, if you set the app up beforehand), and was able to get a better fix on where we were within the WMA.
We visited a handful of boat ramps on three different fishing areas, including the big ones, Silver Lake North and Silver Lake South. There were concrete picnic tables and small fireplaces near the boat ramps, and at a couple of landings there were nice metal docks you could go out on, even if you were in a wheelchair. There were no man-made sounds to be heard on the day we went, and it was easy to imagine how peaceful it would be to float out on a pond just waiting for a fish to bite. Silver Lake in particular has a number of old tree stumps and lily pads, and we saw some young brim swimming around in the shallow water.
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Panic Pond, the trophy bass area, was closed off by a metal gate, as it is only open on Saturday through Monday, presumably to limit over-fishing. No live bait may be used there, and all fish must be caught and released, except one fish that is 24 inches or longer may be harvested once per day. Panic Pond is also closed during July and August.
Possible improvements could be made
In our opinion, here are a few things that could be done–with relatively small expense compared to the WMA purchase amount–to bring more visitors to Silver Lake and thus, Decatur County:
- More signage at the major intersections that serve as “gateways” to Silver Lake, similar to the signs that point to Wingate’s Lodge in Faceville off Georgia Highway 97 South.
- An easier-to-read road sign for Silver Lake Road, the main access point on the northern side of the Silver Lake WMA. There is currently nothing to suggest that is where most first-time visitors should turn onto.
- At the very least, a resurfacing and possible widening of Ten Mile Still Road. While we know asphalt is expensive, this is an investment that needs to be made both for safety and the quality of visitors’ experience.
- A better public “welcome” point with information posted about the various rules and requirements for using the Silver Lake WMA, along with any other information visitors may need to know, such as an WMA map.
- Better marketing of Silver Lake to the public. Silver Lake has been called “a crown jewel” for Decatur County to offer to citizens and visitors alike.
About Silver Lake
Silver Lake was opened in 2009, after the joint purchase of former International Paper property by the State of Georgia, The Conservation Fund, federal grant money and various private charities. Decatur County contributed $3 million toward acquiring the 8,430-acre property, which had a total cost of $38.6 million. International Paper had managed the area known as Silver Lake and the adjacent Hog Farm as a forestry experiment station for 50 years. Decatur County is paying off a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority with annual proceeds from SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area was identified by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as one of the top priorities for acquisition in the State’s Wildlife Action Plan because of the extensive stands of mature longleaf pine forest which supports many threatened and endangered species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and gopher tortoises. Approximately 65 red-cockaded woodpeckers make their home at Silver Lake and visitors can see bird houses around the property to help protect their population.
What you will need:
- If horseback riding or camping, you will need a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass. A pass is not needed by any persons who already have a WMA or an honorary, sportsmen’s, lifetime or three-day hunting and fishing license.
- If hunting or fishing, you will need the appropriate hunting or fishing license issued by Georgia, as well as a WMA stamp. Alligator, turkey, waterfowl and deer hunting is only allowed through a quota system. For more information, visit www.gohuntgeorgia.com or call 800-366-2661.
- There is no admission / usage charge for people wishing to hike or birdwatch in the WMA. However, larger organized groups wishing to use the WMA should first contact the DNR’s Southwest Georgia Game Management office, located at 2024 Newton Road in Albany. Its phone number is (229) 430-4254.
- Most of the roadways within Silver Lake are not paved. Some are gravel-lined, others are dirt but some are little more than trails. Therefore, a pickup truck or a 4 by 4 – capable vehicle is recommended for those wishing to explore.
About the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass
A GORP for an individual costs $3.50 (three days) and $19 (annual) for individuals. For groups of eight or fewer people, a GORP is $10 (three days) and $35 (annual).
The GORP will go on sale beginning Nov. 1, 2011. It is available at www.georgiawildlife.com/recreational-licenses, by calling 1-800-366-2661 or via retail license agents. A high-value version called GORP Plus ($3.50) is available only to Georgia residents and covers three days access, plus hunting and fishing privileges.
For more information or to see a list of areas, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/Georgia-Outdoor-Recreational-Pass.
Editor’s Note: Some of the information used in this article about the history of Silver Lake originally appeared in the Bainbridge Post-Searchlight.