ELLIJAY, Ga. – Business owners and downtown merchants are being a little more cautious this holiday season as Ellijay is falling under similar situations as so many across the country this season with scam artists.
Laura Thomas, the owner of Green Willow Soap in Downtown Ellijay, has been reporting and raising awareness of a specific scam artist that visited her shop this week. Thomas says that the older-looking woman entered her store complaining that she had lost her atm card and couldn’t access her money in the bank.
According to her story that she told, the woman had also not eaten lately nor had anywhere to sleep the night before. Thomas stated, “I told her that I would call the police to help her. The tears stopped, sobbing stopped, and she all but ran out of my store and up the sidewalk.
Thomas told FYN that as she followed the lady, continuing to ask her to wait for the police, the lady entered a vehicle with a Bartow County License plate.
However, Green Willow Soap is not the only one reporting this scam. Allegedly, similar situations have occurred at the downtown barbershop and other businesses. Marcelle Lowry of the barbershop told FYN that the barbershop had given the lady $20 before she had gone into Green Willow Soap. Lowry then followed with Thomas as they were asking that she wait for the police. Lowry said she kept crying as she was in the shop, but she did not appear to have any tears on her face.
Additionally, as Thomas originally went to social media to share the experience, numerous people have come forth saying they have helped the lady as well or given rides. Allegations continue to say that others have seen her in Cartersville and Canton as well.
In a season focused on sharing and giving gifts, many also take time to also share and help those in need. However, it seems that more and more lately, others continue to take advantage of this season in attempts to prey on those who would help others with scams like this. Citizens and local business owners continue to share these stories to help each other avoid these scams and learn from the situations.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – During the Historic Preservation Commission meeting held on Monday, May 13, 2019 the commission voted in favor of a rooftop bar being constructed by property owners Matt Bond (pictured to the right above) and Jason Boutwell.
The bar will be built atop the existing structure at 10/14 River Street just outside of the downtown square by making minor modifications to the already approved metal stairs that will access the rooftop.
The bar will maintain a facade that matches the original brick of the building and the railing (48″ with seating that is positioned at an angle back from the edge of the roof) will match railing on the approved balcony below.
The rooftop will allow visitors to view the North Georgia mountains and most of downtown to include Rich Mtn, Cohutta Mtn, Harrison Park, the Courthouse, the square, the downtown cemetery, and a view of the parade route down River Street.
A part of the rooftop will be covered, though not all, with firepits and small speakers (not large enough to cause noise issues in the surrounding area) decorating the rooftop.
It is anticipated that the bar will sell food as well, though it’s unlikely there will be a full kitchen atop the building.
The estimated completion time frame is five months.
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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”
ELLIJAY, Ga – Despite numerous weather and climate hurdles including a cold evening sharpened by winds and rain at times, the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA) is reporting a very successful year.
With some changes like the absence of the town of Bethlehem that First Baptist Church hosted at last year’s event and added security measures, this year’s event was noticeably different than 2017. Changes that both DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes and Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey praise as improvements to the event.
One major safety improvement that both parties noted separately was barricades set up to block the parking spaces on the roundabout, allowing pedestrians to safely view both the tree lighting and parade apart from traffic and parade vehicles. While these barricades have been used for the majority of 2018, this is the first Light-Up Ellijay event they have been used. The major difference being that this parade is largely held in the dark with lights on the float and the town decorations illuminating the area.
Chief Lacey noted this year’s event went “very smooth” as they conducted safety and traffic control with six on-duty officers. He also reported no traffic issues during the event and the after-event surge.
The parade hosted around 35 different groups, according to Cortes, and just under 20 vendors in the temporary market throughout the day. Though he says DEBACA did scale back on certain things, the event still pulled in one of the best business days for downtown merchants despite the tree-lighting ceremony being interrupted with a 5-minute rain shower and a continuing sprinkling of rain until the parade.
Lacey referred to the event as a “more traditional Light-Up Ellijay event.” With Santa Claus appearing on the city steps just before 2:00 p.m. and the market on Broad Street quickly following, citizens and merchants in downtown seem to agree saying, “no question its safer and more efficient.”
Along the lines of balancing Light-Up Ellijay between a tourism event and a local event, Cortes told FYN that despite cancelling the Whoville earlier in November, there are still plans to return to it in coming years. However, he did add that DEBACA has been considering multiple options including hosting Whoville in partnership with another organization with available manpower to host the event on a separate day from Light-Up Ellijay and more cosplay actors to enlarge it on its own.
With possibilities for the future of Light-Up Ellijay being discussed, Cortes also noted the he, personally, thinks that the events success could continue into next year by adding to the parade size and seeking opportunities for the marching band or live-music of some sort.
Citizens, law-enforcement, and business owners all seem to agree that Light-Up Ellijay was indicative of continuing a bright future for Ellijay’s Downtown Events.
Gilmer County, GA
There was a large turnout for trick or treating in Downtown Ellijay. The downtown area was filled with our local businesses all dressed up and enjoying the evening handing out candy. Ghosts and goblins of all sizes enjoyed the warm evening with a wide array of costumes. Enjoy the slideshow below:
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Most of the time, when you meet a police officer, it really isn’t a pleasant experience. It has nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with their job.
You may meet them when you’re getting a ticket because you were in a big hurry and may have gone a bit over the limit, or maybe you called because you were robbed and need help, you may have even called to report a wreck and need to give your statement. In any case, the vast majority of the time, police respond to bad situations, it’s really part of the job description.
This year the Ellijay Police Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the police force, hosted a night in an effort to change that. The National Night Out is a nation-wide community-building event that supports officers and organizations across America, but as Ellijay’s original plan for the date of the event in early August, the rain forced a reschedule.
This weekend, the Ellijay Police Foundation made good on that promise by hosting the event Saturday between 4 and 8 p.m. The event saw many of Ellijay’s Officer’s hosting or dropping by to say hello to citizens and share their time to allow the people to speak with them, play with them, and eat with them, all free of charge.
With music flowing across North Main Street and into the parking lot next to First Baptist Church, the Ellijay Police Department partnered with the Ellijay Fire Department, the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force, and its sponsors to set up the police motorcycles, police cruisers, the fire truck, a hummer, and a sheriff’s cruiser for citizens to view, sit in, play with, and climb through. Kids and parents alike were allowed to set off the sirens and lights and try on the equipment that these men and women wear every day.
There was also a golf cart with a driving course and the standard test that citizens could go through while wearing “drunk goggles” simulating inebriation.
Pilgrim’s of Ellijay donated chicken and hot dogs for grilling along with the manpower and the grill to cook for the event. Country Corner Kitchen and Coca-Cola donated a trailer and people to hand out cold drinks. North Georgia Party Rentals donated a bounce house and a dunk tank to help celebrate as well.
That dunk tank saw major attention from citizens as officers climbed in. For a one dollar donation, a person could take three shots at the target to dunk the officer in the tank.
A surprise arose as a donation came from the department’s own Chief Edward Lacey to dunk one of his officers. What many citizens didn’t hear at first was that Lacey had jokingly called it “insurance” as he would be in the tank himself later in the day.
His “insurance” was response to a few people that had managed to run up and hit the button by hand instead of throwing a ball at the dunk tank. The terms were that no one was allowed to hit the button by hand unless they beat his own donation.
The protection was short-lived, however, as his officers found a “generous donor” that offered $100 to allow two officers to hit the button together to drop the Chief by hand.
The event came in partnership as the brain-child of Chief Edward Lacey and hosted by the Ellijay Police Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to build and foster community with the police as well as gathering funds and donations to provide more training to these officers. Lacey has since reported that over $500 was raised by the dunk tank in support of these efforts.
According to Detective Colburn of the Ellijay Police Department, this is set to become an annual event for the Ellijay Police Department, though it will likely return to its original August date next year as the rain delay pushed it back to September this year.
Check out more photos from the event with our Album on FYN’s Facebook.
FYN publishes the arrest reports provided by the GCSO. The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for www.fetchyournews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Gilmer County. Those arrests are posted on www.fetchyournews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.
ELLIJAY, GA. – After years on River Street, citizens are waking up today to see the Cantaberry Restaraunt in a new location.
Though not that far from the old location, the restaurant’s new spot boasts many upgrades for the business include almost doubling their seating and expanding the outdoor tables onto a shaded deck. The new location is on the southern corner of the downtown roundabout next door to the Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company.
According to Manager Jessica Bruner, the site can hold just under 100 people and are already planning on live music events and similar activities for the outdoor area. Bruner did say the Cantaberry will be looking to expand their staff as they gauge the community response to the new site.
The staff is taking the “new” brand to extremes as Bruner said they bought all new equipment, barely bringing anything from the old location. Additionally, they will be adding a dinner and brunch menu in the coming weeks as well as beverages from local brewers Grumpy Old Men and local winery Chateau Meichtry as well as Merciers Orchard’s Hard Cider and Georgia’s SweetWater Brewing Co.
Though Bruner said they could be looking into other options including other local wineries, she didn’t detail any other plans in store for the upgrade.
The special day kicked off with their opening at 11:00 a.m. today hosting the first two tables. Ann and Bob visited from Young Harris as the first seated guests in the new location. The second set of guests through the door were Katrina and Jesse, the first official Ellijay residents to visit.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Disputes arose in Ellijay this week during a meeting of the Ellijay City Council over a variance request at 50 Depot Street. Could this variance bring trains to Ellijay?
The council discussed the request from Michael Duke, owner of the business at 50 Depot Street. However, Duke does not own the land on which his building sits. This detail was the core of the debate as Duke leases the land from the well-known CSX Railroad company. In order to purchase the land, Duke needed the variance request approved.
Many arose in opposition of the request as nearly 45 to 50 people attended the meeting with the vast majority there for the variance request. Fifty Depot Street is behind Southern Customs on River Street and in front of the Cajun Depot Grill, also on Depot Street.
The item for discussion focused on the land size being on 0.28 acres. With streets on all sides, the landlocked business would not be able to be approved with the minimum being 0.5 acres required. However, discussion rose to include the future of the project at that location as Duke plans on renovating the building to become the “Ellijay Express Railroad.”
With hopes to see railroad tourism similar to that of Blue Ridge, Duke is looking to possibly move in that direction in the future. This became the main focus of discussion by those in attendance.
One of those in opposition was Dennis Haynes, who said he owned the Cajun Depot Grill. In full opposition, Haynes claimed approving the request and allowing the changes would take parking from him, which he has used for numerous years. A deal, Duke stated, was in place before he took ownership of the building. Haynes went on to say that losing the property would put his restaurant in “definite jeopardy.”
Stating the loss of parking would be detrimental to his business to the point of shutting down, Haynes asked the council to deny the request.
He was not the only opposition. However, two others spoke saying they loved the idea and wanted to support the project in a different location. Mike Kirkpatrick and Pamela Thomas Jones both called the project an amazing idea, but for somewhere else. Kirkpatrick told the council he owned lots on Depot Street and wanted them to deny the request due to it being “ill-conceived” in planning for parking and traffic concerns.
Kirkpatrick went on to say that though he wants success for the city and for this project, the council should consider the problems and undue stress they would be putting on local business owners from the congestion such a business would cause.
Pamela Thomas Jones spoke on behalf of her father, Bob Thomas, who owns the property where Southern Customs sits. Jones also echoed the sentiments of the project being a great idea. However, she fervently requested the council not to approve the variance in the meeting. While she did not outright ask for denial, Jones instead plead for the council to look further and deeper at the issue by performing studies and investigations into the effect the business would have on the area.
Based on the need for requirements to approve a variance request, Jones quoted the city’s own ordinance in the meeting while saying that the city needed to understand there are already parking issues in the area as discussed in their meeting from the other speakers.
Duke spoke again saying that they are already looking to improve safety to the lot, he also mentioned he did not want to “block any parking” from the other businesses in the area. He mentioned there were already signs asking people not to park in the depot lot until after a certain time, and he wanted to continue alongside those in Ellijay to increase safety and promoting “what’s right for Ellijay.”
Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle put the discussion to the agenda item saying that the issue at hand was a variance of minimum lot size. Despite the conversation of the project and the future of the business, Hoyle stated that they were there to discuss minimum lot size.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear Duke owns the building and leases the property. The topic at hand allowed him to purchase the property from CSX Railroad, but it appears that much of the business decisions would not necessarily be stopped by denying the request.
Regardless, the council officially, and unanimously, approved the request. Despite some concerns from the council as to what could have been done earlier in the process for mediation they did allow the variance with the lot being locked in position and unable to increase lot size through additional tracts. So, with the approval, the owner of the building can also become the owner of the property under the building.
Some in opposition to the request walked out of the meeting as soon as the vote finalized. After this, Ellijay can look to the area for changes in the near future. Duke told the council during the meeting that the Blue Ridge line is already set to send some of their engines to Tate, via Ellijay, for repairs and maintenance. However, if Duke follows through with the plans mentioned in the meeting, citizens of Ellijay may see more trains on our tracks sooner than we think.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A house on North Avenue fell victim to an electrical fire just before 7 p.m. on Friday night, April 13, according to Ellijay Fire Chief Sam West.
As fire units responded to the blaze, officials said they had the blaze contained and dying inside of 30 minutes. However, authorities remained on scene into the night monitoring the site and digging through debris for “hot spots.” West said a standard investigation concluded the cause to be an electrical issue.
No one was injured in the fire, and West has confirmed with FetchYourNews that no adjacent buildings were damaged in the fire or the emergency response. The main house, however, suffered extreme damage as most of the roof burned away and the rest of the house suffered smoke and water damage during the incident.
Chief West stated that they received the call to respond to the fire at 6:50 p.m. and had North Avenue closed almost the entire time units were on scene, until just before 11 p.m. that night.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – River Street Tavern has been recognized as the best beer bar in Georgia in the annual Great American Beer Bars competition conducted by CraftBeer.com—the Brewers Association’s website for beer lovers.
With more than 6,000 small and independent craft brewers operating throughout the country, beer lovers have a bevy of options to indulge and delight in their favorite beverage. To help enthusiasts take advantage of where to find palate-pleasing pints in every state, CraftBeer.com readers were recently polled to determine the best beer bars in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized in the craft beer world. We could not have done this without our great staff and amazing customers. It is our goal to provide great food paired with amazing craft beer and to continue to grow in our great community,” said Brad Simmons, owner of River Street Tavern.
“CraftBeer.com readers have an extensive level of insight on what makes a beer bar truly stand out,” said Jess Baker, editor in chief of CraftBeer.com. “The Great American Beers Bars, selected by nearly 8,000 individual nominations cast by CraftBeer.com readers, are each stewards of quality craft beer and beer service. These outstanding beer bars, taprooms and brewpubs introduce their customers to new and exciting beer experiences and have been integral to the success of the independent craft brewing movement.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Ellijay Merchant’s Association hosted their annual St. PETrick’s Day event downtown on March 17 with a marked growth over last year.
More vendors, more pets, and more entertainment added to the improvement of the event that took place, mostly, in the parking lot between Dalton Street and Hipp Street next to First Baptist Church of Ellijay. Those in attendance were also treated to live music throughout the day from “Trailer Hippies.”
In addition to added vendors offering everything from food, crafts, and T-shirts to homegrown produce, the Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter were on scene for information and commemorative photos. Homeward Bound has also become an annual presence making dogs available at the event for adoption as well as showing them off in the parade.
The festivities peaked mid-day with a training demonstration for dog owners and contests occurring shortly after the main event of the parade of pets walking up North Main from the Elementary School, circling the roundabout, and going down River Street before taking North Avenue back to the school.
The parade itself also grew this year with several representatives from Ellijay Jeepers decorating Jeeps in true St. Patrick’s style. Boy Scout Pack 402 made a presence in the parade as well as several local businesses and organizations including Pets On Main, Gilmer Animal Shelter, Shelter Dogs for Veterans, Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter, Kids Ferst, Abby’s Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt, and Sliding Rock Cabins. And of course, countless dogs and their humans marched on the downtown area for the festivities.
As usual, though, dogs were not the only animals attending, several owners brought their own exotic pets including a cat, two goats, and a red-tailed boa constrictor.
Downtown Ellijay will once again be transformed into Whoville this Holiday Season!
Join us on November 24 for a celebration even the Grinch can’t steal!
We plan to have vendors and will provide vendor information when it is available!
The tree lighting on the square will be at 5:30 with the parade of whos at 6pm.
Parade applications will be provided soon.
There will be pictures with Santa and of course the Grinch!
Everyone is invited to dress in their best whoville costumes for the event!
Keep checking back for more details and added events and activities to come!
dawhodoorah let’s welcome Christmas in Ellijay!
ELLIJAY, Ga – Anyone watching social media for our local area on Friday saw part of the major crowds overfilling the downtown area for Light Up Ellijay.
In fact, the event grew so much over recent years, officials were forced to call in extra help to direct the crowd. The parade saw a minor delay to start as crowds spilled out into the street, having nowhere to stand. By the time of the tree lighting at 5:30 p.m., the crowd had deadlocked traffic with some even parking and stepping out of their vehicles for 30 seconds to watch the lighting.
Vendors set up onto Broad Street while First Baptist Church of Ellijay brought the town of Bethlehem to the area with a staged area in their rear parking lot. Hosting people in full costume, complete with Roman solders, basket weavers, shepherds and even an angel or two, the town brought the ancient times to life as visitors were even asked to sign the “census” upon entering the fenced area.
Even more poured into the downtown boardwalk as the Grinch himself made an appearance for photos and children. Santa and Mrs. Claus met kids as well on the courthouse steps for photos before all of them retreated to Ellijay Elementary School to prepare for the parade.
The Grinch came as a part of this year’s Whoville theme. Citizens, visitors and parade walkers alike all dressed for the occasion, adding a whimsical look to the already decorated tree and town.
As time drew near for the night time festivities, those in the vendor area, Bethlehem and boardwalk all began moving towards the roundabout, forcing many to stand out in the street.
One family said they had set up their seats on the roundabout at 2:30 p.m. However, that family, and others, were disappointed as no one but the kids in front sat to watch the parade. Some onlookers complained of the crowds saying they wouldn’t be returning next year. Others wouldn’t let the crowd dampen their spirits, instead welcoming them saying they have never seen the city so popular.
Indeed, so many people came downtown that extra hands like Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett voluntarily joined the city police to aid in crowd control. Although no official count could be made, estimates from city police officers soared from 10,000 to 15,000 people before the night had concluded. Festivities began around noon and continued late into the night with Abby’s Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt hosting a dance party in their parking area immediately after the parade.
An overall amazing year brought the crowds out, but is also causing the city to retreat for meetings to respond. A number of people that downtown Ellijay has not experienced at one time during even the Apple Festival Weekends has called for officials to rethink plans for next year.
FYN has requested comments from officials on the night and Ellijay Chief of Police Edward Lacey has already agreed to speak with FYN once their meetings this week conclude.
Make sure to follow us over to our Facebook Album to see more Photos from Light Up Ellijay.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The downtown area of Ellijay was rocked by an historic crowd for its Light Up Ellijay festivities, which echoed throughout the county.
Citizens have responded in various ways and have voiced opinions as to the success or detriment of the Return to Whoville themed event. However, they are not the only ones responding to what some merchants called “Who-mageddon,” a jovial moniker made possible by a lack of major incidents during the event. Indeed, with additional responses from not just Ellijay’s police force, but county fire and rescue personnel as well, the event had only one reported incident, which involved a missing child. According to officials, the child was found within 15 minutes of searching.
This was an outcome Ellijay City Police Chief Edward Lacey said the town was very lucky to have accomplished. While acknowledging the unanticipated crowd, Lacey said his officers performed “admirably,” going so far as to say they gave “150 percent.” Lacey also confirmed with FYN that despite their efforts, the event would have been a lot worse had they not received backup from firefighters helping out with crowd control.
According to the permit issued by the city of Ellijay to the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA), the organization expected a maximum of 5,000 people at the event. While no one could confirm details, reports have varied as to the cause of the dramatic increase.
From a few viral videos to a radio station picking up the story in Florida, rumors continue to swirl with no real specific answers. However, DEBACA reported they noticed over 70,000 clicks for Light Up Ellijay in the week leading to the event. After the night was done, license plates were seen from over nine states, according to officials on scene.
Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle declined to comment about the meetings and processes involved since Light Up Ellijay, but he did speak about the people who attended saying, “That paints a very positive picture of Ellijay. The name ‘Ellijay’ is known, obviously, and it drew that big of a crowd, and that’s great.” He went on to comment that with the quality, he sees future events growing as well.
Speaking with DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes, he echoed the sentiment that attracting the crowd was a success on its own. This is the first time the association has hosted the event after transferring the event from the Downtown Development Authority.
Stepping beyond the event itself to identifying the effects a week later, Lacey stated about back-up received, “I think it showed that we were able to admit that we were overwhelmed … A lot of times, agencies that are not willing to ask for help are the ones that get in a lot of trouble … We were able to admit that we needed help and actually request it.”
In fact, not only did the Ellijay Police receive help during the event but also invited members from the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, Gilmer Fire and Rescue, the Gilmer Chamber, DEBACA, East Ellijay Police, Ellijay Fire, and others to an after action meeting that is usually only held with Public Safety. Lasting more than three hours, the meeting saw members from each entity delving into the event separating out things that did happen versus things that should have happened during the event. Specifying the disconnection between those two ideas led to discussion and thoughts on future events.
A few specific issues came to light in the meeting regarding logistics for things like the addition of vendors for the event, the opening of bathrooms for the event and parking and traffic due to the crowd. Chief Lacey told FYN that the meeting and input from all involved will be considered as he creates his report and in moving towards future events.
Cortes also commented with FYN saying another issue with the crowd comes with future events. Not knowing if they should prepare for a similar crowd to this year or preparing for something lower is part of the stresses of planning. Cortes suggested they would be looking at the upcoming events throughout the year, such as St. PETrick’s Day and Independence Day, to gauge the response they might see at Light Up Ellijay.
One of the bigger points in the meeting addressed a lack of communication and response from parties involved. Addressing understandings of the permit process and amending it paired with controlling and coordinating the multiple entities became a larger focus. Suggestions on dealing with these issues led towards future events seeing use of Instant Command Structures (ICS) and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
EOC is a fusion center of resources that officials say are used to manage and communicate across the different entities of public safety. Fully activated EOC’s could also include members from all sorts of other entities; in Ellijay, this could include mayors, council members, DEBACA members, or more. As explained in the meeting, this would allow instant access to cross-force resources.
The EOC concept also answered issues with traffic. A crowd of the size seen downtown not only gridlocked traffic after 5 p.m., but also clogged emergency access through the area. One hypothetical example of the EOC given at the meeting suggested an issue arising on Hwy. 282. The EOC could coordinate a nearby sheriff’s deputy to the location faster than any other. A more immediate response from a sheriff’s deputy in the area means far lower response times in the face of gridlocked traffic for citizens.
Somebody tracking and directing all requests would streamline services and resources in that instance to better control and guide arising issues, whether they be safety-focused or logistically focused through those involved.
In addition to the EOC, pre-made ICS would be available to handle situations where pre-planned events escalate to any sort of emergency, for example if a driver had grown so frustrated with the crowd that he or she ran people down.
While this may seem extreme, Lacey told FYN these are the issues that police deal with everyday. They must prepare for the potential issues that could grow out of events with crowds like we witnessed this year. An approach that imitates an old saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” is one that the city police face daily in protecting and preparing for situations despite a common thought that such instances would not happen in our town.
In fact, part of Lacey’s research into parades garnered 56 total headlines in newspapers, with 55 of those occurring since July 2001, involving parade incidents and injuries. Crowds like the one at this year’s Light Up Ellijay further intensify the possibility of incidents.
While the entire week was spent identifying issues and areas for improvement, Chief Lacey declined to comment further on the entities involved saying, “It’s enough to say that there was a disconnect, and that we’re going to fix that.”
Cortes echoed approval of the cooperation and coordination found through the meetings held in the week after the event. Noting an increase in involvement as DEBACA continues to grow, Cortes tells FYN that he would love to see representatives from the Chamber, the cities and police forces at their meetings and events. He went on to comment on the meeting saying it answered questions: “What can we do if a big event comes to Ellijay? How can we handle that?” He went on to say, “There’s no finger pointing, everybody knows that a lot could have been done better, and a lot needs to be done if we’re going to work together in the future.”
Though Light Up Ellijay is firmly in the city’s rear view, progress and meetings continue as the response and preparation for next year continue. Continuing in growth and popularity, citizens and officials alike will be closely watching downtown over the coming year in anticipation of another night like Nov. 24.