Arguing erupts over City Park playground

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Blue Ridge, Ga. – It was clear from the onset of the Blue Ridge City Council meeting that tensions were high between fellow council members Rhonda Haight and Mike Panter.

During approval of the minutes from a Special Called Oct. 20, 2020 council meeting Haight made the motion to accept the minutes but with it being noted that Panter had brought forth non agenda items at this meeting and that this was illegal according to the Open Meetings Act.

During this meeting Panter asked to speak and used this time to point out the history of dysfunction within the city council.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

View of playground in City Park showing height of slide.

Mayor Donna Whitener pointed out that it was a council member who had made the request for this for the time to speak.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a council person,” Haight responded to the Mayor’s comments, “I’ve never been allowed to do that.” 

The motion to accept the minutes with the added note passed 3-2 with council members Robbie Cornelius and Panter opposing.

Contention didn’t stop there, as Haight then moved to have the agenda amended, moving Panter’s line item (Presentation of playground and Purchase) from Action Agenda Items to Purchasing Approvals.

Haight stated that according to the city charter and for clarification in minutes that the item should be moved: “Are we going to be purchasing?”

Council member Nathan Fitts backed Haight stating, “If we’re going to go by procedures, let’s do it correctly.” Fitts added that everyone needs to get on the same page.

“An action item can be an action item where you are taking action on something and a purchasing approval,” City Attorney James Balli clarified whether the item had to be moved. “Legally you can do it under either one.” 

The motion to move the item passed with only Panter in opposition and council member Harold Herndon expressing his opinion that it didn’t really matter.

Panter had previously presented to the public his research and opinion on the route that should be taken when considering reopening the City Park’s playground area.

During his presentation at the current meeting Panter reiterated that his concern is with safety and the lack of upkeep the city has done in maintaining the playground area. 

Panter advocated for using rubber padding in lieu of mulch and stated that while the initial cost would be over $60,000, the benefits of not having the upkeep of mulch would save the city money in the years to come.

“We had two grants of over $150,000 offered to the city,” Panter stated of the park’s history, “We got zero because we couldn’t make a decision.” 

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, City Council, City, Mayor, Planning, Zoning and Project Manager, Attorney, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Panter, Harold Herndon, Jeff Stewart, James Balli, Legal, Safety, Reopen

Panter presenting his research and findings into reopening the City Park playground.

Arguing among council and mayor erupted over who had been previously responsible for the decisions made about the park and playground.

“Ms. Whitener went down to the park yanked all the equipment out and left it totally blank,” Haight said of the park’s two year saga of renovation between 2015 – 2017.

Haight acknowledged that there was a grant for $120,000 to be used in the park but that the grant was for a botanical garden and not for the playground. 

Mayor Whitener retorted to Haight, defending the landscaping that began but was later removed, “You were moving the park to the other side.” 

“And yes I did want it to go at the other end but it was too late at that point,” Haight responded to Whitener’s remark.

One thing that the two did agree on was that $12,000 was spent during this time on sod that was later removed and a sprinkler system.

Conversation became more heated when Whitener pointed out that council member Haight’s husband had been involved with the park at that time. Haight acknowledged that her husband had volunteered some of his time but was not involved in the ultimate decisions that were made.

“I think you’ve told so many lies over the years, you don’t even know what the truth is,” Haight spoke directly to Whitener.

Fitts tried to steer the conversation back to addressing the playground as it is today instead of discussing the history: “We need to do what is best for the citizens right now. What would it take to get the park open to code?”

Cornelius finally made a motion to purchase the turf option presented by Panter, stating that the problem should just be fixed rather than “putting a band-aid on it”. The motion, however, failed to pass with only Panter and Cornelius voting in favor.

“I’m not interested in taking the liability and doing that,” Panter said when suggested that the city use mulch for now.

Haight responded to Panter,  “Just because we voted you down, you don’t want to participate even though you’re over the park?”

“I’ve done my job,” Panter responded “You do your job. I’ve done mine.”

Haight motioned for $10,000 to be spent in bringing the playground up to code with the use of mulch and to address drainage issues in the area. This motion passed 3-2 with Cornelius and Panter in opposition.

Planning, Zoning and Project Manager Jeff Stewart agreed to take on the project of the City Park playground and will oversee the steps necessary to reopen the playground to the public.

Panter doesn’t back down from decision to close park

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council held a special called meeting last week, but due to a lack of a quorum no votes could be taken and business for the city remains at a halt. While lack of a quorum seemed to be a contentious issue, it did not stop the remaining members of the council along with the mayor from presenting information to the public.

Council member Mike Panter has recently come under fire for his decision to close the playground area of the city park. With citizens and even other council members questioning his decision and authority, Panter did not back down from his stance and took the time to explain his reasoning.

“I did not want the liability. I did not want the city to have the liability, and I felt like it was my responsibility to close the park,” Panter said of recent events, adding, “I know I did the right thing.” 

For Panter, the issue of public safety came to his attention during the state mandated shut down of the city park during the onset of Covid-19.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County, Playground, Park, Safety, Mayor, City Council, Donna Whitener, Mike Panter, Children

Plans for Blue Ridge City Park Playground area showing where the height of the slide stands at 12 feet.

Panter had examined the 12 inch bumper placed around the park and realized the mulch had not been properly maintained.

Municipal playgrounds are required to maintain a certain depth of “padding” around equipment for safety purposes, and for the City of Blue Ridge that depth should be maintained at 12 inches considering the height of the slide, standing at 12 feet tall.

“How much mulch do you think we have underneath that slide,” Panter questioned and then answered, “three inches.”

According to Panter, the mulch in the city park should be maintained every six months and that the park itself should be inspected once a year.

“We haven’t had any additional mulch added in three and a half years. We have not had an inspection in three and half years since it was put in,” Panter remarked of the current state of the playground area.

Panter discussed a number of options for remedying the situation that included mulching, rubber mulch, and his preferred option of padding and synthetic grass. 

While the synthetic grass option would be more costly upfront, it would allow for proper drainage to be installed and would also come with a 15 year warranty.

Panter stated that “the cost is half (compared to the mulching option) over that 15 year period”.

Mayor Donna Whitener also commented that using the synthetic grass would make the park more accessible for those with mobility issues and for very small children.

“Everything that you look at has positives and negatives,” Panter said of the possibilities to get the park back up and running.

There is expected to be a more in depth discussion on the matter along with costs of the project at the Special Called Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Students return to school August 7th : What to expect

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner
Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”


***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.


***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.


***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”


***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.


The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”

Silencing the Citizens for Public Safety

Citizens Speak, Opinion

Opinion – Is it possible to get accurate citizen input at a town hall meeting and ban the citizens from attending? Unlikely. Regardless, the City of Blue Ridge is forging ahead with their “town hall” meeting to get resident input on the annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515.

I guess we are lucky that the city is even pretending to care what the residents think. Had it not been for council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight, this deal would be signed, sealed and delivered.

Haight and Fitts put a halt to the annexation after feeling that Mayor Donna Whitener had been misleading in the information that she had given, and misleading she was. One glaring point that stood out among the misinformation train was her swearing that citizens had already voiced their opinions.

Well, they had….in 2017. Hardly what I would call a reasonable time-frame of considered public input. 

County officials were also taken off guard with the vote in favor of annexation. 

Whitener, along with others present at the recent city council meeting, all agreed that County Commission Chairman Stan Helton had been present in a past “annexation” meeting, with Whitener stating that he was in favor of this annexation.

What Whitener fails to mention, once again, is that this meeting took place well over a year ago and that the meeting was only to discuss the possibility of receiving a grant to run sewer to Mercier Orchards and by default INOLA Blue Ridge.

Annexation and the discussion of, was not the purpose of this meeting.

After details have been brought to light, the city sends out a notice of a town hall meeting, but once again transparency does not seem to be their top priority. 

The notice clearly states:

“The public is encouraged to attend however, social distancing will be practiced, and everyone is encouraged to wear a mask. Seating will be limited in order to follow the guidelines set forth by the Governor of Georgia.”

Is it really fair to the residents of the city to not have their voices heard under the guise of Public Safety? 

You tell me, how easy would it be to stack the speakers in favor of your agenda with only a limited number of people able to attend? I would think pretty easy, especially when big money is involved.

The City has in no way attempted to accommodate their usual or even possibly larger than normal crowd, and Fannin County does have the resources for them to seek help in this arena. The Performing Arts Center (PAC), the Blue Ridge Community Theater, or even outdoors at the City Park to name a few, but the City has no intention of moving this meeting.

They did give citizens another option:

“With social distancing in process we understand that some may not wish to attend. Therefore, questions regarding this meeting or annexation may be answered prior to the meeting by calling Jeff Stewart at 706-632-2091 ext. 2. If you would like to submit a letter of support or opposition but do not wish to attend the meeting, please email them to [email protected].”

With the absence of transparency and honesty shown so far, I have little faith that any of these emails would be read aloud at the meeting or even acknowledged, and we the people would be none the wiser.

While this town hall meeting or lack thereof is not technically illegal due to the declared State of Emergency, it is unethical.

The people should demand that their governments either open up all the way or hold off on major decisions until a time when they can accommodate their populous.

A Message from Jamie Hensley – Safety First!

News, Politics

North Georgia Senior Living by Cameron Hall: Mattie’s Call

FYNTV, Lifestyle
cameron hall

Jessi Barton from Cameron Hall joins Guest Host Rick to discuss about Mattie’s Call.

Two Important Announcements From Georgia DNR

Announcements, Outdoors





MANSFIELD, Ga. (Aug. 19, 2019) – Ladies, have you ever wanted to head out to go backpacking or fishing or shooting, but not sure where to start? The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division can help! The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Workshop, scheduled for Nov. 1-3 at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, provides a practical introduction to a wide variety of outdoor recreational skills and activities.  


“BOW workshops focus on learning outdoor skills in a safe and structured environment, giving women from all backgrounds the chance to learn outdoor skills in a positive, non-competitive atmosphere where they can feel confident and have fun,” said Katie McCollum, BOW coordinator. “Available class activities will include shooting, fishing, camping, photography, wilderness survival and more!”


BOW is an educational program offering hands-on workshops to women (18 or older) of all physical ability levels and aims to break down barriers to female participation in outdoor activities by providing a safe and supportive learning environment.  


Weekend workshops begin on Friday morning and end on Sunday. Between meals and special presentations and events, participants can choose from about 20 professionally-led classes, ranging from such topics as firearms, wilderness survival, fishing, orienteering, outdoor cooking, nature photography, astronomy and hunting. Sessions range in intensity from leisurely to rugged (strenuous).


“Although classes are designed with beginners and those with little to no experience in mind, more seasoned participants will benefit from the opportunity to hone their existing skills and try out new activities,” says McCollum. “All participants will receive enough instruction to pursue their outdoor interests further when the workshop is complete.”


Registration for BOW is now open. Participants can choose to bring their own tents and gear, or stay at the lodge at Charlie Elliott, part of a popular complex including a wildlife management and public fishing area. Cost per person, which includes food and programming, ranges from $220-265 (dependent on lodging choice).


For more information, including registration details and a complete listing of classes offered, visit or call (770) 784-3059.









SOCIAL CIRCLE, GA (August 19, 2019) – Outreach and involvement helped secure Game Warden Josh Cockrell of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Law Enforcement Division as the Hunter Education Instructor of the Year, according to the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division.  


This award is presented annually in recognition of an instructor who displays outstanding efforts in educating sportsmen and women on wildlife conservation, and the importance of safety while hunting. 


“Teaching students to be safe, responsible, ethical hunters is the goal for all instructors” says Jennifer Pittman, hunter development program manager.  “Game Warden Cockrell is an exceptional example of the type of instructor that can encourage and inspire young hunters.” 




Game Warden Josh Cockrell: Some of the highlights of Game Warden Cockrell’s hunter education efforts include his involvement with several events. The annual Wilkinson County Quail Hunt targets new hunters that recently completed their hunter education class. Josh actively recruited new kids to attend, solicited donations, and was responsible for event set up, and coordination of the event. In February, Game Warden Cockrell assisted with the annual Squirrel hunt at a Lake Oconee Georgia Power campground, escorting two new hunters throughout the event. In addition to these, Josh worked at both the FFA convention in Macon and the Buckarama in Perry. These events see a steady flow of the public, and rangers have to be prepared to answer almost any kind of question. Game Warden Cockrell showed good knowledge about a variety of topics, including multiple hunter education questions.


For more information about hunter education, call the WRD Hunter Development Program Office at (706) 557-3355 or visit    





GDOT Pleads for Safe Back to School Driving in Northwest Georgia 

Safe Driving for Back-to-School Season…
GDOT Pleads for Safe Back to School Driving in Northwest Georgia 

WHITE, Ga. – Students heading back to school means more traffic, increased congestion and the need for extra safety precautions. From school buses loading and unloading, to kids walking and biking, to parents dropping off and picking up – dangers abound.

As back-to-school gets into full swing, Georgia DOT urges drivers to put safety first – especially in and around school zones, buses and children.

  • Pay attention to school zone flashing beacons and obey school zone speed limits.
  • Obey school bus laws.
    • Stop behind/do not pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.
    • If the lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, opposing traffic must stop unless it is on a divided highway with a grass or concrete median.
  • Watch for students gathering near bus stops, and for kids arriving late, who may dart into the street. Children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks.

According to the National Safety Council, most children who lose their lives in school bus-related incidents are four to seven years old, walking and they are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus.

“It’s never more important for drivers to slow down and pay attention than when kids are present – especially in the peak traffic hours before and after school,” said Grant Waldrop, district engineer at the DOT office in White.

Research by the National Safe Routes to School program found that more children are hit by cars near schools than at any location. Georgia DOT implores drivers to watch out for children walking or bicycling (both on the road and the sidewalk) in area near a school.

“If you’re driving behind a school bus, increase your following distance to allow more time to stop once the lights start to flash. The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to give them space to safely enter and exit the bus,” Waldrop explained.

Whenever you drive – be alert and expect the unexpected. By exercising a little extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist safely in and around school zones. Let’s make this new school year safer for our children. 

# # #

Outdoor Grill Safety

Community, Outdoors

Press Release

Outdoor Grill Safety

Grilling during the summer time is a fun and exciting activity, but we should not forget about fire safetyAgent Kevin Panter of Kevin Panter Insurance, Inc. is teaming up with the Georgia Arson Control Board to urge the citizens of Fannin County to take proper precautions when enjoying outdoor activities such as grilling.

According to Panter, “While grilling can be an enjoyable outdoor activity for families and friends, it is important to make safety a priority.” Panter also offers the following tips for grilling:

  • Keep flammable materials such as leaves and other debris away from the grill. Also, keep the grill a safe distance from your house or car. Don’t leave a grill unattended. Keep children and pets away from cooking areas.
  • Use only lighter fluid specifically made for starting charcoal fires. Don’t use gasoline; it can explode. Don’t add starter fluid of any kind after charcoals are lit.
  • Always light a gas grill with the lid open. After cooking, shut off the tank first, then the burners.
  • Use outdoor grills where they belong — outdoors. Charcoal fires give off carbon monoxide, which can reach toxic levels in an enclosed space.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near. Use baking soda to handle small grease fires. If it’s safe to get near the grill, close it to suffocate the flames.
  • Georgia law states that, “No charcoal or liquefied petroleum gas or liquid-fueled burners shall be kindled or maintained on balconies or within 10 feet of combustible patios on ground floors.” That means no cooking is allowed on apartment balconies. Check with your complex to see if they have a common grilling area for residents that is safely away from the residential area.
  • Always follow the instructions for your grill and check your local fire codes.

The Georgia Arson Control Program, Inc. (GAC) was formed in January of 1979 by property and casualty insurers writing business in Georgia. GAC, with the cooperation of the Commissioner, Georgia Department of Insurance and Safety Fire, and state/local law enforcement agencies, established an ARSON HOTLINE 1-800-282-5804. A reward fund of up to $10,000 was initiated from which monetary rewards are given to individuals who come forward with information that results in the arrest and conviction of those responsible for arson and/or fraud.

Visit us at:

Facebook: @GeorgiaArsonControl

Twitter: @GaArsonControl


Safe and Healthy Summer Fun!

Announcements, Community





SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (March 18, 2019) – Georgia turkey hunters are ready for the season to open on Saturday, Mar. 23. The 2019 turkey hunting season should be a fair season, similar to 2018, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.  

“Reproduction in 2017 was lower than the four-year average, so that could mean a lower than usual supply of 2 year-old gobblers across much of the state in 2019,” explains Emily Rushton, Wildlife Resources Division wild turkey project coordinator. “However, that lower average comes between two better years, so hopefully other age classes will remain plentiful.”

With a bag limit of three gobblers per season, hunters have from Mar. 23 through May 15 – one of the longest seasons in the nation – to harvest their bird(s).  

What should hunters expect this spring? The Ridge and Valley, Piedmont and Lower Coastal Plain should have the best success based on 2017 reproduction information. The Blue Ridge region had a poor 2017 reproductive season, but saw a significant jump in 2018, so there may be a lot of young birds in the woods. The Upper Coastal Plain saw reproduction below their five-year average for the past two years, so numbers in that part of the state may be down.

Cedar Creek and Cedar Creek-Little River WMA Hunters, take note! The 2019 turkey season will run April 6-May 15 on these properties. This is two weeks later than the statewide opening date. This difference is due to ongoing research between the University of Georgia and WRD, who are investigating the timing of hunting pressure and its effects on gobbler behavior and reproductive success. Through this research, biologists and others hope to gain insight to the reasons for an apparent population decline in order to help improve turkey populations and hunter success at Cedar Creek WMA and statewide.

Georgia Game Check: All turkey hunters must report their harvest using Georgia Game Check. Turkeys can be reported on the Outdoors GA app (, which now works whether you have cell service or not, at, or by calling 1-800-366-2661. App users, if you have not used the app since deer season or before, make sure you have the latest version. More information at

Hunters age 16 years or older (including those accompanying youth or others) will need a hunting license and a big game license, unless hunting on their own private land.  Get your license at, at a retail license vendor or by phone at 1-800-366-2661. With many pursuing wild turkeys on private land, hunters are reminded to obtain landowner permission before hunting.


Conservation of the Wild Turkey in Georgia

The restoration of the wild turkey is one of Georgia’s great conservation success stories.  Currently, the bird population hovers around 300,000 statewide, but as recently as 1973, the wild turkey population was as low as 17,000. Intensive restoration efforts, such as the restocking of wild birds and establishment of biologically sound hunting seasons facilitated the recovery of wild turkeys in every county. This successful effort resulted from cooperative partnerships between private landowners, hunters, conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Wildlife Resources Division.

The Georgia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has donated more than $4,000,000 since 1985 for projects that benefit wild turkey and other wildlife. The NWTF works in partnership with the Wildlife Resources Division and other land management agencies on habitat enhancement, hunter access, wild turkey research and education. The NWTF has a vital initiative called “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt,” focused on habitat management, hunter access and hunter recruitment.

“Hunters should know that each time they purchase a license or equipment used to turkey hunt, such as shotguns, ammunition and others, that they are part of this greater conservation effort for wildlife in Georgia,” said Rushton.  “Through the Wildlife Restoration Program, a portion of the money spent comes back to states and is put back into on-the-ground efforts such as habitat management and species research and management.”

For more hunting information, visit .   


Photos courtesy of Brian Vickery. After watching his older sister have two successful seasons, 7 year-old Luke is able to take his first bird during the special opportunity youth turkey hunting season.





SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (March 18, 2019) – Do you need hunter education before you head to the woods? You have options! Hunters in need of the Georgia hunter education course can choose to go completely online or attend a classroom course, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.

“In 2018, over 14,000 people completed the Georgia hunter education course – either online or in a classroom,” says Jennifer Pittman, statewide hunter education administrator with the Wildlife Resources Division. “I am glad that we can continue to offer both classroom and online options, as it gives students a choice of what works best with their schedules, especially those with time constraints.”

The four available online courses each require a fee (from $9.95 – $24.95) but all are “pass or don’t pay” courses. Fees for these courses are charged by and collected by the independent course developer. The classroom course is free of charge.  

Completion of a hunter education course is required for any person born on or after January 1, 1961, who:

  • purchases a season hunting license in Georgia.
  • is at least 12 years old and hunts without adult supervision.
  • hunts big game (deer, turkey, bear) on a wildlife management area.

The only exceptions include any person who:

  • purchases a short-term hunting license, i.e. anything less than annual duration (as opposed to a season license).
  • is hunting on his or her own land, or that of his or her parents or legal guardians.

For more information, go to or call 770-761-3010.

Fannin County awarded excellence in school safety

Community, News, Rebel's Corner
Exemplary Board

Blue Ridge, Ga. – When it comes to school safety, Fannin County continues to excel and was recently acknowledged by local law enforcement and emergency response for their efforts.

“One of the things that I am very very proud with Fannin County, our school system, is the relationships we that have between our government agencies, especially the sheriff’s department and the emergency management services,” Director of Transportation and Safety Benny Long said explaining that all agencies play a vital role in protecting the youth of the community.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Education, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Dane Kirby, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Possession of Weapons by Employees, GAMB, Policy, Firearms, School, School Resource Officer, SRO, Lieutenant, Darvin Couch, Safety, Emergency, Plan, GEMA, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Comprehensive Plan, Mock Drills, Certification

Fannin County School System not only met but exceeded state requirements in the area of emergency preparedness.

Faculty of the school system often train alongside these agencies preparing for a number of scenarios and Long acknowledged that there is a comfort in knowing that Fannin County’s emergency personnel is “just a phone call away”.

Looking back on the past year, the Fannin County School System took a number of proactive steps in the process of making its campuses as safe as possible for all who attend.

At the April 12, 2018 Board Of Education (BOE) meeting the board introduced the GAMB policy. This policy was adopted and essentially gave Fannin County schools the option of arming personnel.

While the new policy definitely grabbed the attention of parents and residents alike, administration and staff had also been working in other ways to help secure campuses and ensure the safety of Fannin County children.

“We work diligently everyday to ensure the safety of our students,” Long said of the ongoing efforts, “If a child doesn’t feel safe at school, they can’t learn. Those are one of the basic needs that have to met.”

One element of safety that Fannin County is proud to offer is that a School Resource Officer (SRO) is assigned to each of the school campuses.

“This is a community effort by the Fannin County School System, the Sheriff’s Department, and Blue Ridge City Police,” Long explained of groups working together for the betterment of the schools.

Long spoke specifically of the resource officers in Fannin County stating that “it takes a special person to be a resource officer. It takes someone who loves the students, who wants to be involved, and who wants to make a difference in that young child’s life.”

“That’s the best set of eyes that we have,” Long continued to explain the importance of SROs in our schools, “when a student feels comfortable reaching out to our resource officers and confiding in them and giving them information.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Education, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Dane Kirby, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Possession of Weapons by Employees, GAMB, Policy, Firearms, School, School Resource Officer, SRO, Lieutenant, Darvin Couch, Safety, Emergency, Plan, GEMA, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Comprehensive Plan, Mock Drills, Certification

Fannin County’s School Resource Officers credited with going above and beyond for the students.

Fannin County also has an emergency operation plan for the schools. This emergency operation plan has been in effect and constantly evolving since 2003.

The comprehensive safety plan covers a number of scenarios from weather and gas leaks to active shooters and bomb threats.

The plan in the past was vetted or checked by GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency), but recently under new guidelines has been handed over to local agencies for approval.

Though local agencies are now in charge of reviewing the district’s comprehensive safety plan, it still must meet all requirements laid out by the state of Georgia as stated in O.C.G.A.20-2-1185.

“I’m going to brag on ours. Ours exceeds the minimum requirements by the state,” Fannin County School Resource Officer Lieutenant Darvin Couch said of the district’s most recent plan.

Active shooter drills were performed at the schools during the summer of 2018, but none of these drills have taken place while students were present.
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) also performed a mock disaster drill over spring break of 2018.

Fannin County Transportation Department participated in this drill and school bus drivers got to experience the scenario of moving people during a disaster. This drill also included the setting up of shelter at Morganton Baptist Church.

Long informed the public that all schools have top of the line cameras in place, and that SRO’s as well as the Sheriff’s Office have the ability to remote access the cameras. These cameras are capable of producing clear images of not only people but also vehicles and vehicle tags.

Through the use of these high tech devices, security is able to pinpoint the “location of whatever the threat could be” and know “what they are getting ready to go into”.

Fannin County High School added 52 of these cameras in the months of March and April in 2018.

“We are working with all three of our elementary schools to work on a plan to control access at our elementary schools,” Long said of the ongoing effort to continue safety improvements.

“None of us wants to limit anyone to come to school with their child,” Long added. The school system wants parents and guardians to always feel welcome, but would like to know who and when someone enters a school building or campus.

The high school will experience a similar point of entry security measure with a “storefront” door being placed before the office at the main entrance. This door will require either a key card entry or for a person to be buzzed in.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Education, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Dane Kirby, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Possession of Weapons by Employees, GAMB, Policy, Firearms, School, School Resource Officer, SRO, Lieutenant, Darvin Couch, Safety, Emergency, Plan, GEMA, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Comprehensive Plan, Mock Drills, Certification

Members of the Board of Education along with faculty of the school system receive certification for emergency operations plan.

Beyond local networking with various emergency providers to our county, the school system was also in contact with the Georgia Secret Service Agency.

“We have actually reached out and have a contact with an agent out of Atlanta,” Long said, “and they are going to be working with us on some different measures that we can use to keep our schools safe.”

“Safety also takes on many aspects. It’s not only the school’s safety of the buildings, the campus, and the faculty, but also involves our faculty members and our employees,” Long stated.

SRO Couch presented the BOE with a certificate recognizing the work the school system has done through extensive planning in exceeding the requirements set forth in providing and updating a comprehensive safety plan.

Couch read from a letter written by Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby: “From tornadoes to terrorism, Fannin County faces a variety of ever-evolving threats, underscoring the importance of updating plans in cooperation with local public safety professionals.”

Kirby added in his letter,”I am pleased to inform you that your school emergency operations plans have once again successfully met the requirements of O.C.G.A. 20-2-1185.”

The BOE, administration, and staff continue to work within the community and access outside resources to provide the best safety solutions for the students of Fannin County.


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SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (March 18, 2019) – Before you head to the woods this Spring in pursuit of a gobbler or two, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division encourages all hunters to take some time to review important turkey hunting safety tips.

“Firearms safety knowledge is critical to keeping you, and others, safe while in the woods,” advises Jennifer Pittman, statewide hunter education administrator with the Wildlife Resources Division. “In addition to firearms safety tips, hunters should review and practice safety precautions specific to turkey hunting.”

Turkey Hunting Safety Tips:

  • Never wear red, white, blue or black clothing while turkey hunting. Red is the color most hunters look for when distinguishing a gobbler’s head from a hen’s blue-colored head, but at times it may appear white or blue. Male turkey feathers covering most of the body are black in appearance. Camouflage should be used to cover everything, including the hunter’s face, hands and firearm.
  • Select a calling position that provides at least a shoulder-width background, such as the base of a tree. Be sure that at least a 180-degree range is visible.
  • Do not stalk a gobbling turkey. Due to their keen eyesight and hearing, the chances of getting close are slim to none.
  • When using a turkey call, the sound and motion may attract the interest of other hunters. Do not move, wave or make turkey-like sounds to alert another hunter to your presence. Instead, identify yourself in a loud voice.
  • Be careful when carrying a harvested turkey from the woods. Do not allow the wings to hang loosely or the head to be displayed in such a way that another hunter may think it is a live bird. If possible, cover the turkey in a blaze orange garment or other material.
  • Although it’s not required, it is suggested that hunters wear blaze orange when moving between a vehicle and a hunting site. When moving between hunting sites, hunters should wear blaze orange on their upper bodies to facilitate their identification by other hunters.

For more hunting information, visit .

New Locking System for Fannin County School System


BLUE RIDGE, Ga.—Oct. 11 Fannin County School Board of Education voted and approved a new key card locking system for Blue Ridge Elementary School and West Fannin Elementary School.

West Fannin Elementary received a quote from Howard Technology Solutions for $43,803.66. This quote amount covers all equipment, including installation, and will be paid through Fannin County Board of Education’s SPLOST fund.


Blue Ridge Elementary received a similar quote from Howard Technology Solutions for $46,872.66. This quote covers all equipment, including installation. $44,780.00 will be reimbursed to the Fannin County School System by GaDOE (Georgia Department of Education) Facility Safety Grant Bond Funds.

These locking systems will keep school doors locked and no one can enter the school building unless they have a key card.

Staff members will have key cards that will allow them access into the school buildings and there will be a database that shows who was in and out of the school last.

These key cards can also be activated and deactivated at a moment’s notice should there ever be an issue concerning the school’s safety.

Pesticide Safety Month and Apple Producers Meeting


Hundreds of people get sick each year from inappropriate pesticide use.  Pesticides are used in homes, workplaces, apartments, farms and other places where humans need to control pests such as weeds, insects, fungi, rodents and even viruses. Of the 11 states participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) pesticide safety program, workers reported 853 serious injuries from pesticides in 2011.  During National Pesticide Safety Education Month this February, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension personnel are urging homeowners, and all Georgians, to learn more about the safe use, storage and disposal of pesticides.

According to Dr. Mickey Taylor, UGA Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) Coordinator, “pesticide safety education is key to helping homeowners and pesticide applicators, both commercial and agricultural, safely and effectively use available pesticides to protect their homes and crops and livelihoods.  At the same time, they want to protect themselves, their employees and colleagues from any potential ill effects of pesticide use in addition to protecting their families and neighbors. As good stewards of the land, pesticide users want to preserve our environment for the future.”

UGA Extension’s PSEP promotes the safe, responsible use of pesticides by individuals and commercial groups by providing training programs, materials and educational resources covering pest identification, personal safety, safe storage and disposal of pesticides, environmental protection, pesticide drift and runoff prevention, threatened and endangered species protection, water quality protection, and food safety.

One way that UGA Extension reinforces safe pesticide usage is to conduct workshops, meetings, and trainings in which pesticide usage and safe handling is taught.  One such course coming up is the North Georgia Commercial Apple Production meeting.  It will be held on Wednesday, February 21st at the Gilmer County Public Library on Calvin Jackson Drive in Ellijay.  There are other regional trainings held for producers.  If you would like information about those trainings, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.

Dr. Taylor is also the editor of the UGA Extension “Georgia Pest Management Handbook.”  The handbook is revised and published annually.  It has information about labeled pesticides that can be used by homeowners and commercial producers. Copies of the handbook are available for purchase through the UGA market place at and there are copies in the UGA Extension county offices if you would like to view one before purchase. Remember to always read the label before you use or store any pesticide.

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