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Para pilots organization wants to use Sawnee Mountain
WEB

NORTH FORSYTH -- During a meeting of the Forsyth County parks board Wednesday, members of the paragliding group Southern Para Pilots presented a proposal to use Sawnee Mountain and the Barker House as a takeoff area.

Paragliding involves using a large aerodynamic parachute, known as a wing, to glide to a landing spot and can last anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours depending on conditions, said the group’s secretary, Fred MacDowell.

“Essentially, you walk off a mountain in a slow run and you just go off,” he said. “Now their job is to either fly along the mountain as the wind is blowing up the mountain or catch rising air and go up the cloud base.”

The group currently flies out of Bell Mountain in Hiawassee and Pigeon Mountain in Lafayette, as well as in Alabama, Tennessee and North and South Carolina, but they did have a reason for taking a look at Sawnee Mountain.

“If we are able to move forward, this site will be the only site in the entire Southeast that is close to a large population center,” MacDowell said. “People from all over Forsyth and the greater Atlanta area would have unparalleled opportunity to experience free flight.”

No action was taken during the meeting as members Todd Holbrook, Steve Dabbs and Kimberly Brown were absent. The group will present again at the board’s July meeting.

If approved at that meeting, the matter will go to the county’s commission.

The discussion is early in the process, and Parks Director Jim Pryor said there will be a lot of work to make the plan a reality.

“There’s going to be some due diligence. I have to speak to the county risk manager,” Pryor said. “Also, the property they want to use is owned by the county.

“There is a small access road. The area is fenced off, but there are residents that live up there that own their own property that don’t own this property, so that might be an issue of contention.”

Currently, the group is only looking to do some work on the top of the mountain, including removing and trimming trees and bushes, talking to surrounding property owners and testing before opening.

MacDowell said that if approved, which would also have to go through the commission, the site would only be open to members of the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

Group members are required to sign a release of liability, and the group purchases insurance to protect landowners in the case of a flier’s injury.

“That allows us to require people to be members and have signed the correct documents for insurance,” MacDowell said. “Without that if you just open that fence and say, ‘We’re just allowing any nut case that wants you jump off of it,’ we can’t stop anybody from flying there.”