2018 Common Ground Summit

State Parks & Local Economies
Session Three - 1 PM - Blue Ridge

Photo: William Brawley, The Georgia Conservancy

Photo: William Brawley, The Georgia Conservancy

Session Description and Noteworthy Project Aspects:
This panel centers on the theme of Georgia State Parks as catalysts for small town growth through tourism and revenue. Communities such as Winder and Twin City are home to important State Park and Historic Sites which facilitate the protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as create opportunities to support local economies. Panelists will share their work on how to raise awareness of the economic and intrinsic values of Georgia's greatest treasures.



Eric Bentley - Resource and Projects Director for the North Georgia Mountains Authority of the Department of Natural Resources. 

Eric Bentley's position oversees all resource projects and construction projects pertaining to State Parks with lodges.  A native of White County, Georgia, his previous work experience has been at Unicoi State Park in Helen, Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Kolomoki Mounds in Blakely, Park Manager of Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, and most recently as the State Parks Region Manager in Albany. Mr. Bentley possesses over twenty-four years of experience of park and historic site management. He received his Bachelors of Science Degree in Forest Resources from the University of Georgia in 1994.  Mr. Bentley is a current resident of Cleveland, Georgia with his wife, Jennifer, along with his three sons.  He remains active in the local community and his previous positions include Past President of the Blakely Rotary Club (2002-2003), member on the Board of Directors of Barrow County Chamber of Commerce, and served as a volunteer coach of his son’s football and soccer teams. 

Matt Donaldson - Mayor Pro Tem, City of Twin City and President, Friends of George L. Smith State Park

George L. Smith is a 1,634-acre State Park with a 412-acre lake located in Twin City. Donaldson was elected to public office in Twin City in 2016 and currently serves as Mayor Pro Tem. Matt is actively involved in the Georgia Municipal Association, where he currently serves as 2nd Vice President for District 9. Matt also serves as the District 9 Representative on the Municipal Training Board, which is a cooperative effort between the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association that oversees the training program for Georgia’s municipal officials. Matt is actively involved with East Georgia State College, where he serves on the Board of Trustees for the Foundation, serves as the Alumni Committee Chair, and serves as the President of the Alumni Association. He is employed with Durden Banking Company, Inc. in Twin City and serves as Assistant Vice President & Controller. He has been employed with the Bank for 12 years.

Matt is a graduate of East Georgia State College, Georgia Southern University and the Georgia Banking School at UGA. He is currently attending the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.

Becky Kelley - Director, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites

Becky Kelley was appointed Director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Parks, Recreation & Historic Sites Division in September 2002.  As director, she leads a resilient team of professional and part time staff and works with partners, volunteers and allied agents to oversees one of our nation’s most robust state park systems: 

  • 49 State Parks and 15 State Historic sites that encompass over 85,000 acres; amenities including campgrounds, cottages, group camps, golf courses, lodges and conference centers, historic homes and culturally significant lands, and over 530 miles of trails on both land and water.
  • Under Becky’s leadership, the division has thrice been a finalist for the National Gold Medal Award for excellence. The division also received the inaugural 2009 National Award for Planning Excellence for Georgia’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), a policy guidance document that outlines opportunities to enhance Georgia’s future for health and livability, economic vitality and resource conservation through outdoor recreation.
  • Prior to her work with Georgia DNR, Becky was with DeKalb County, Georgia’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs.  She worked her way up through the department over 26 years and was their director for 10 years from 1992 – 2002.

Becky is active with the National Association of State Parks Directors and National Recreation & Parks Association. She serves on the Board of Regents for NASPD’s State Park Leadership School. Becky also serves as a founding member and current vice-chair of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area Alliance and is a member of the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association.  In 2014, Becky became one of the youngest members to be inducted into the GRPA’s Professional Hall of Fame.

Becky is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia with a BS degree in Recreation Administration. She grew up in Cordele and Stone Mountain, Georgia, and she and her husband, Steve, currently live in McDonough, Georgia.

David Maynard - Mayor, City of Winder

David Maynard is currently serving his second term as Mayor of the City of Winder.  Before becoming Mayor, he served one term on the City Council. David was a General Contractor for 28 years, but now works full time in his position of Mayor.  He has lived in Winder his entire life and joining the Common Ground Summit to share how the City of Winder and Fort Yargo State Park have partnered for the benefit of both the Park and the citizens of Winder. He has a great appreciation of how Fort Yargo contributes to the “quality of life” to those living in Winder, including himself.



Andy Fleming - Executive Director, Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites

Andy Fleming serves as executive director of Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, a position he has held since June 2007. Prior to joining Friends in this capacity, Andy had served more than 25 years in leadership positions with local and national nonprofit organizations in Paralympic sports. Andy served as President and CEO of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games – the world’s second largest sporting event in 1996 -- from its inception in 1990 to its successful conclusion. Following the ‘96 Paralympics, Andy led the creation and development of BlazeSports America, a national nonprofit organization serving children and young adults with physical disabilities. He has served in a variety of volunteer capacities, including ten years on the U. S. Olympic Committee’s Committee on Sports for the Disabled, as a member of the Board of Trustees of Leadership Atlanta, the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, and is a former member of the Atlanta Rotary Club.  


If you have any questions regarding this panel, please email Georgia Conservancy Stewardship Trips Director Laura Buckmaster at lbuckmaster@gaconservancy.org