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Sep. 24, 2020
8:26 pm


After 35 years, Chris Lovelady retires from Lanier

By Pamela A. Keene 
Chris Lovelady is an anomaly in a good way. He has spent his whole career with the US Army Corps of Engineers at one project: Lake Lanier. At the end of February, he’s retiring from the only workplace he’s ever known for the past 35 years. 
It will be bittersweet for many of the people around the lake who have worked with Lovelady as he moved through the ranks, first as a coop student from the University of Georgia and ending his career as Assistant Operations Project Manager.
“I’ve done almost everything at the Buford Dam project, except working in the powerhouse and managing construction,” says Lovelady, whose family moved to Hall County when he was in middle school. He graduated from Johnson High School in 1982. “I have worked on both sides of the project, from park operations and shoreline management, eventually serving in administration and leadership.”
 Lovelady graduated from UGA in 1987 with a degree in recreation with an emphasis on natural resource management. He worked his junior and senior years as a coop student at Lanier, finding out then that he’d made the right decision for his life. 
“In college I tried to volunteer for the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, but neither of them was taking volunteers at the time,” he said. “That’s how I made my way to the Corps, and it was the start of my career.” 
His love of the outdoors began early. “Our family visited Yellowstone National Park often from the time I was young, and my dad, who was a Delta pilot, helped us learn a love for the outdoors and travel,” he said. “I remember a park ranger sitting on a horse, wearing a straw hat and some kind of uniform. I told my dad then that I wanted to grow up and be a park ranger.” When he graduated, the Corps’ offered him a job as park ranger at Lanier. He was hired by long-time Project Operations Manager Erwin Topper. 
Starting out on the park operations side, Lovelady managed the campgrounds and parks as he followed a path in recreation. By 1992, he was tapped to move into shoreline management, working there as an area ranger, then in administration at the front desk, followed by time in real estate and natural resource management. By 1997, he became chief ranger over shoreline real estate and natural resource management, where he worked for 12 years.
During that time, he was involved in helping with the 1996 Summer Games on Lanier. “I remember being up at Clarks Bridge Park when all the dignitaries from the International Olympic Committee arrived up there by helicopter to view the potential site,” he said. “At that time it was just a big parking lot with a boat ramp. They were served big buckets of fried chicken and peaches. That first trip really changed that whole area and still brings international attention to Lake Lanier.” 
Lovelady was instrumental in shepherding the Corps’ updated Environmental Impact Statement and Shoreline Management Plan for Lanier in 2004. They were the first such updates since 1987. “Both of these were multi-year projects that help us craft a vision for Lake Lanier going forward,” he said. “We did an extensive shoreline usage and dock carrying capacity studies, gathering information about recreation that led to our current limit of 10,615 private docks plus other changes. We held public meetings and considered the feedback and input. It was a big deal that took three to four years.”
During that time, the concept of community docks was implemented, allowing for residential developers to install a limited number of slips for homeowners. The Corps closely examined various aspects of how visitation, development and lake access affected the lake and the public lands surrounding it.
His work resulted in his being accepted for the one-year leadership program with the South Atlantic Division, headquartered in Atlanta, where he served in 2006. He also assumed a 4-month temporary assignment as site manager at Lake Walter F. George south of Columbus.
In 2009, Lovelady moved to the position of natural resource manager at Lanier, because of his experience at the project. As such, he supervised both divisions of the Buford Dam office, hiring and overseeing personnel, setting schedules, administering budgets, plus managing and assisting with various permitting related to construction.
Lovelady’s family lived on the lake, where his mother sold real estate. A former US Air Force captain, his father Parker flew for Delta Air Lines starting in 1964. As a teen, Lovelady had a boat and fished the lake with his twin brother Scott, who now lives in Flowery Branch, and brother Todd, who lives in Oakwood. 
Lovelady married his high-school sweetheart Sherri Wilson in 1987. An interior design graduate from UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, she and Chris moved to Dahlonega so that she could get her teaching certificate. They moved to Buford in 1990 living near her parents. She also earned her master of education degree and then her specialist degree from Piedmont College. She has taught school in the Buford City Schools for 21 years. The couple have two adult children: John, 30, who lives in Buford with his wife Emily, and Andrew, 27, who lives in Highlands, North Carolina, with his wife Bobbi Jo and their 3-year-old daughter Ella. 
Lovelady and his wife are retiring to the mountains of Western North Carolina. “I’ve always loved the mountains and all that comes with it,” he said. “Plus Andrew and his family live there, and Sherri’s parents, Joe and Norma Wilson, are retired nearby.”
Now that he has spare time, he will concentrate on his favorite pastimes – church activities, hunting deer, turkey and squirrel, and trout fishing. “We can hear the creek running from right behind our home.” 
He recalls perhaps one of the most hectic and focused time at Lake Lanier, right after September 11, 2001. “It certainly did put us all on high alert and strengthened our relationships with law enforcement that are still strong today.” 
Throughout his career, he’s also worked closely with the marina operators, local governments, dock builders and land developers. “I have certainly enjoyed these relationships.” 
Looking back, he readily admits that he’s grateful for his career and the many people who have crossed his path along the way.
“I’ve had a blessed life not only here at Lake Lanier, but overall,” he said. “It has been just perfect for me. I’ve met so many people here in those 35 years and had the chance to do so many things. Now I’m looking forward to kicking back and spending more time with my family.”

Posted online 1.30.20
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