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Mar. 26, 2019
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Don Carter’s legacy lives on at namesake park

By Jane Harrison
 
About 20 years ago Don Carter shared a plane ride over northern Lake Lanier with a Georgia Department of Natural Resources director. Pointing towards a large swath of woodland where the Chattahoochee River widens into the lake, Carter planted the seed for what would become one of his legacies. “That would make a great park. What do you think?” he asked former DNR Chief Joe Tanner.
 
A little more that a decade later, 1,316-acre Don Carter State Park opened as the only state park on Lake Lanier, providing a lakeside playground for what he called the hard working folks on the lake’s northern end.
 
Donald J. Carter, 86, conservationist, visionary, entrepreneur and champion for the common folk passed away Feb. 7. The 70-year Gainesville resident served more than a third of his life with Georgia DNR and helped the state acquire more than 300,000 acres for outdoor recreation. He told Lakeside News during a pre-opening tour of his namesake park how honored he felt. He spoke glowingly about “the nicest retirement party in the world” in 2002 when he heard the surprise announcement.
 
He said he envisioned the $14 million park on the lake’s quiet northern tributary as an outdoor respite for “blue collar people” to relax on a beach, catch fish, hike and vacation. The first person to get a visitor’s pass on the park’s opening day, July 15, 2013, a reporter, got Carter to sign it and regards the park as a treasure close to home.
 
“He was proud of this place; he took pride in what he helped put here,” Don Carter State Park Manager Stephen Emery said a couple days after Carter’s death.” He would drop by once a month to check up on things, see how the park was doing. I could always tell he had a heart for conservation. He was concerned for the park. His heart was really in it.”
 
A line from Carter’s obituary sums up how he invested his energies. A quote from author Henry James “The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it,” was said to be Carter’s favorite quote and guiding principle.
 
According to his obituary, Carter was born in Detroit, Mich. in 1932 and returned with his parents to the South when he was two years old. He always claimed the hills of North Georgia as his true heritage. His family moved from Buford to Talmo and then to Gainesville where he graduated from Gainesville High School and played on the football and baseball teams. He attended North Georgia College and then transferred to Mercer University where he graduated in 1954 with a degree in Economics.
 
After serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1954-1956 as a First Lieutenant, he returned to Gainesville and managed a poultry company with an uncle for a decade. He then ventured into real estate, founding Don Carter Realty, brokering and developing real estate around North Georgia. He served on numerous banking, commerce, and civic club boards in Gainesville.
 
An avid angler and hunter, perhaps his greatest contributions came from his love of preserving Georgia’s natural resources. He was appointed to the DNR Board in 1973 by Governor Jimmy Carter, and was later reappointed by Governor George Busbee, Governor Joe Frank Harris and Governor Zell Miller. He chaired DNR in 1977, served for 10 years as chair of the Land Acquisition Committee, and he was appointed by Governor Miller to Chair the Preservation 2000 Committee. The committee purchased over 300,000 acres of land for park and wildlife management areas.
 
The Carter family hosted a reception in his memory at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville Feb. 12, a memorial service followed the next day at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
 
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in support of family friend David Carmon who is paralyzed and fighting to recover from West Nile Virus (Checks made payable to Jessie Carmon, 751 Oakshire Court, Gainesville, Ga.30501) or Friends of Don Carter State Park (Checks made payable to Friends of Don Carter State Park, c/o Don Carter State Park 5000 N. Browning Bridge Road, Gainesville Ga. 30506).

Posted online 2/28/19
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