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‘Unsung heroes’ clean up parks; lakeside businesses brace for downtime
John Samples cuts trees at Shady Grove Campground days after the park closed for the season.

Only a few days after closing for the 2017 season, Shady Grove Campground in northeast Forsyth is mostly empty and mostly quiet for the first time in months.

The only manmade sounds are the occasional chainsaw or leaf blower running, because once lake traffic is down there is much work to be done.

On this warmer-than-average November day, Jim Mitchell and John Samples are cutting fallen trees at the campsite into manageable, removable sizes.

“These are new sites here, so [each requires] a little maintenance work,” Mitchell said. “But the older sites, we may end up replacing railing, replacing the steps, reworking the grill, putting some more gravel down.”

Located on a Lake Lanier peninsula in northeast Forsyth, Shady Grove is the only campsite operated by Forsyth County, and the team has a list of projects to complete before the campsite opens for the 2018 season.

“We can do things now that we can’t do when they’re here,” Mitchell said. “If this place had a hundred campers in here, they don’t really want you running equipment until 8:30 a.m. and some of the sites that actually need work, like replacing steps, railings, we can’t get to because someone is camped on that site.”

Jim Mitchell prepares a chainsaw for work at Shady Grove Campground just days into the campground’s offseason.

Carrie Toth, with Forsyth County’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the crews’ job description changes each day and the campsites tend to need a little work after constant use and natural wear and tear over the summer.

“They’re in good condition; they’re a little weathered as the summer goes on because it’s pretty full here every weekend,” she said. “They take care of things like if there are chips or boards in the picnic tables that need to be replaced or holes that need to be filled in, things like that.”

Toth said the 110-site campground is full every weekend in the summer and around holidays.

Not all of that work can wait until the winter.

“It never slows down,” said Matt Pate, natural resources director for the parks department. “It’s constant; it just shifts priorities.”

Pate said there are no large projects or additions planned this year but this is when the work would usually be done and crews will be working until the park opens again.

“They’re the unsung heroes,” Pate said. “They don’t get as much credit as they deserve.”

The offseason also impacts businesses that cater to lake-goers.

Pete Gaddis, evening manager with Hammond’s Fishing Center, said there is a steep drop in customers once weather gets cold.

“We lose a lot of traffic around wintertime,” he said. “You can go here in the wintertime and not see a soul for two or three hours, and I’m at a major intersection. The biggest part of it is just the way the weather is, not necessarily if the fish are biting.”

Gaddis said while the business does have customers who fish all year, the majority of customers only come out when weather is nice and ideal for fishing.

“The weather plays a big part in it,” Gaddis said. “The colder it gets, it’s obviously not fun to be out on the water in 20 degrees sticking the rod in the water to keep the eyelets from freezing.”

Those customers who brave the cold weather have different needs than other customers, and Gaddis said the business tried to accommodate them.

“We bring in HotHands and Toast Toes and all those things you would want to have on your boat when you’re going fishing in these cold temperatures,” he said.

But not all businesses see a dip when it gets cold.

Paul Mashburn, with Mashburn Boat Storage and Marine Service, said the business sees some of its busiest work this time of year.

“Right now, we’re heavily into our winterizing season, so we’re getting boats ready for winter,” Mashburn said. “This will run us through the better part of December or at least until we see mid- to low-20s, some really freezing weather. Usually in mid-March, we get some warm days and people start getting excited and work takes off all over again for us.”

The winterizing process involves removing water from a boat’s engine so it doesn’t freeze and expand during winter.

The winterizing means the company has a lot of work to do in the offseason, but there is still a dead period for the company.

Mashburn said in the fall many owners have plans to use their boat on remaining warmer days, which don’t always come. Once the weather is cold, it’s back to work.

 “Our slow season is slightly after school starts back,” he said. “Kids get back into school, back into sports, football season starts back up, so we really see it drop off, then… it’s cooling off a bit, but people think there’s going to be one more 90 degree day in November.”