The fees for accessing a historic bridge at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area will reach almost $1,000, Superintendent Bill Cox said.
Two young men drowned within weeks of each other after jumping off Settles Bridge in the summer of 2017. Authorities on both sides of the bridge, which connects Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, have since taken steps to limit access to the historic structure and dissuade people from trying to reach it.
Beams used to access the bridge have been removed on the Gwinnett County side, and Forsyth County will build a wall blocking access to the bridge. The beam removal has cut down on the number of people going on the bridge, but has not completely stopped access, Cox said. No drownings have occurred near Settles Bridge since the two 2017 deaths.
Accessing the bridge is prohibited and punishable by fine, and that fee has been about $330 for years, Cox said. Because people have not stopped trying to get on the bridge, the National Park Service is tripling the fine to nearly $1,000.
“What we’re doing isn’t stopping them from getting on the bridge. Our hope is that we only have to write one or two of these before people realize it’s not worth it,” Cox said. “It’s an old structure. The river is cold and dangerous. What we want to avoid is having to go to another parent and say ‘Your child has died from jumping off Settles Bridge.’”
Removing all of the remaining beams connecting the bridge to Gwinnett County is still an option if the fees do not significantly deter people, but the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation would have to be consulted before that occurs, Cox said.
In addition to the increased fines, planned wall and removed beams, there are multiple signs illustrating the risks of accessing the bridge: the cold water, the potentially strong currents, underwater debris that could include tree trunks and branches. The National Parks Service has taken steps to make people aware of the bridge’s danger and stop them from trying to get on it, Cox said.
“At some point safety is a personal responsibility,” Cos said. “We can provide info about the currents and the temperatures, but they only work if people listen. People overestimate their ability to swim in cold water and sometimes that overestimation can end in their death.”