On March 24, 1999, several county commissioners and concerned citizens from Baldwin, Johnson, Wilkinson, Washington, and Laurens counties met to discuss the development of the Oconee River surrounding the Balls Ferry area. The meeting also included representatives from historical societies, Chambers of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Department of Community Affairs, and Department of Economic Development, Department of Natural Resources, Plum Creek, Georgia Power Company, and the Georgia Civil War Commission. This group transitioned into the Balls Ferry Historical Park Association, created to preserve the natural resources of the river and the historical significance of the area, to add value to the quality of life in Central Georgia and to promote ecotourism in the region through the establishment of a state park. The Board of Directors of the Association is comprised of two representatives from each of the five Counties, but all of the organizations represented in the initial meetings on the project remain active and committed.
Since 1999, the Counties of Baldwin, Johnson, Wilkinson, Washington, and Laurens ("the county partners") have worked diligently on this project in cooperation with their members of the Georgia General Assembly and with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The various accomplishments include:
- Establishment of the Balls Ferry Historical Park Association ("the Association), a 501 (c) 3 organization under the laws of the Internal Revenue Service.
- Feasibility Study (August 2000)
- $27,000 in Local Assistance Funding from the State of Georgia Department of Community Affairs for the completion of a Feasibility Study that determined that the park was feasible.
- Feasibility Study completed by Georgia Tech Center for Economic Development Services.
- Park Master Plan (May 2002)
- $150,000 in Line-Item Appropriation from the State of Georgia for the completion of a Park
Master Plan, which laid out a basic design of the park.
- Park Master Plan was completed by Robert and Company.
- Land Acquisition funding (January 2004)
- $994,100 in Line-Item Appropriation from US General Services Administration (PL 108-199). Sponsor Congressman Jim Marshall
- Land Acquired (May 2005)
- 538 +/- acres acquired from Plum Creek
- Selective timber harvesting underway to facilitate development
- Upon completion of the harvesting, property will be donated to the State of Georgia.
- Park Development funding (July 2005)
- $1,000,000 in 2005 Highway Reauthorization Bill for the construction of sidewalks, trails, lighting and amenities. Sponsor Congressman Jim Marshall
Assets of the Ball's Ferry Site and Region
The Ball's Ferry site and the surrounding region are rich in the history of central Georgia. This
includes natural history, as well as Native America, early settler, Civil War, and post-Civil War
history. The site and the region possess numerous attributes that could be preserved and interpreted by
a state park.
- The section of the Oconee River in the region is one of only two populations worldwide of the endangered Robust Redhorse fish.
- This section of the Oconee is also home to at least two other endangered species.
- The Oconee is part of the critical Altamaha River watershed, draining one-quarter of the state.
- Ball's Ferry is located on the Fall Line, which contains unusual geology, plants, and animals.
- The region, including Wilkinson County, is the location of several historic Indian trails.
- The Oconee River near Ball's Ferry contains Indian mounds and rare intact Indian fish trap.
- Ball's Ferry was founded in the early 1800's by a Revolutionary War veteran to provide transportation across the Oconee.
- Ball's Ferry Landing has been designated as a site on the March to the Sea Heritage Trail.
Sherman's right wing skirmished with Confederate troops in Wilkinson County for three
days before crossing the Oconee there.
- In 1843, the first railroad bridge across the Oconee was established in Wilkinson County.
- After a 20-year effort, the first bridge to provide regional automobile access from Macon to Savannah was established at Ball's Ferry in 1939.
- The Ball's Ferry site and the Oconee River offer opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, camping and hiking.
- A new state park planned for the Altamaha River in Appling County could be linked by water to a park at Ball's Ferry, providing additional recreational opportunities.