Lodge at Unicoi State Park to get multimillion dollar update

One of Georgia’s flagship state park facilities will get a multimillion dollar makeover.

The move comes following a review that found the lodge and conference center at Unicoi State Park needed functional updates and refreshing after nearly four decades of use.

The park, near Helen in North Georgia, has historically made money for the state park system. It is a popular destination for hikers and families and -- with its adjoining lodge and conference center -- for business meetings and retreats.

But the lodge and its adjoining facilities are aging. First built in 1972 and expanded in 1983, none of the buildings has received extensive updating since then.

A recent assessment found $7.9 million worth of needs, ranging from plumbing and electrical systems at the site's four main buildings to the parking lots.

The park system has budgeted $3.1 million to start the work, although members of the state Department of Natural Resources board agreed Wednesday to throw in another $1 million to further the renovation. Additional money to finish the work is expected to be requested from the state next year.

"It gives us a good start," said David Clark, the department's engineering and construction chief, who is overseeing the project. The department is still working out priorities, although Clark said it would likely be the "mundane" work behind the walls that gets done first.

Clark also said he expected to concentrate on the four buildings in sequential order, meaning the department would prioritize them. The largest building has 40 guests rooms and would likely go first. The other three buildings have 20 rooms each. Clark did not give a timeline for when the work would finish.

The money comes from bonds sold by the state this year. It's a welcome infusion, given severe cutbacks in other areas. General state funding cuts for Georgia's parks have totaled 46 percent since 2008, forcing staff reductions, reduced maintenance and limited access for some facilities. Unicoi State Park, however, is a moneymaker for the state, turning a $151,842 profit two years ago -- the latest data available.

Clark said department officials believe renovating Unicoi's lodge will help continue to draw visitors to the park.