Sandy Beach Water Park at Lake Tobo closes permanently

Garrett Gardner

Sandy Beach Water Park at Lake Tobesofkee has permanently closed after years of mechanical issues and staffing shortages.

Sandy Seaside Drinking water Park at Lake Tobesofkee has permanently shut following yrs of mechanical troubles and staffing shortages.

The Telegraph

Sandy Beach Water Park has closed permanently.

At least, that’s what the cover photo for the park’s Facebook page says. A call to the company that until recently managed the park, StandGuard Aquatics, was not returned. A recorded voicemail menu noted when parks managed by the company would open in 2021.

The water park has had a complicated history. Located inside the Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area, Sandy Beach Water Park has been open on and off for the last nine years, including in 2022, when it closed Aug. 3 due to staffing shortages and mechanical issues.

Macon-Bibb County, which owns the land the park sits on, reached out to StandGuard Aquatics, asking for a list of necessary repairs, as well as a breakdown of specific costs, county spokesperson Chris Floore said. After not receiving a response, the county sent a letter to StandGuard on Feb. 3, noting it was terminating its contract with the company to manage the park effective April 15.

StandGuard updated the park’s Facebook page on April 11, adding a cover photo that noted the park was “permanently closed.”

A problem-filled history

The water park opened 2014, when owner Jeff Franklin’s company Spirit of America Theme Park and Development LLC signed a 20-year lease to operate the park on Macon-Bibb County land.

Since opening in 2015, the park has been plagued with issues that have resulted in missed holiday weekends, delayed openings, and ending seasons early, including staffing shortages, downed emergency phone lines, missing safety equipment, and mechanical problems.

The park even went into the control of a receiver — someone court-appointed to administer a property — in 2017 when Franklin did not meet his financial obligations to the Small Business Administration and Bank of Perry, investors who largely financed the water park.

As a result, responsibility for managing Sandy Beach Water Park was temporarily given to Jeff Ellis Management.

With this change came the park’s first profitable year, but not the end of its issues. In 2018, facilities were temporarily shut down in July after several children were hospitalized with eye and ear infections.

Franklin secured a group of investors in 2019, and the facility came out of receivership. But despite its success the previous year, Sandy Beach never opened for what would have been its fifth season in 2019.

Michael Hokanson, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s North Central Health District, told the Telegraph that year that an informal assessment of the park revealed safety equipment was missing, phones did not work, and the water was cloudy.

The end of the road

The park was set to open under new management from StandGuard Aquatics Inc. in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. StandGuard was confident they could make the park a success given their experience running water parks like Long Branch Lagoon in Kansas and DropZone in California.

StandGuard requested $44,000 from Macon-Bibb County commissioners to make repairs and updates to the park. In exchange, Macon was set to receive a split of the park’s profits above a $275,000 threshold.

The park struggled with staffing in 2021 and 2022 before closing Aug. 3.

It’s unclear what will happen next. The county’s termination letter notes that any equipment left at the park was presumed abandoned and became county property.

If Macon-Bibb County chooses to operate the park itself, or hire a new management company, the earliest Sandy Beach Water Park could reopen is next year, Floore said.

Sandy Beach still open

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller rides a jet ski near Sandy Beach Park at Lake Tobesofkee Wednesday morning. Miller helped announce that the American Jet Sport Association will host a competition at the lake this weekend..
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller rides a jet ski near Sandy Beach front Park at Lake Tobesofkee Wednesday morning. Miller assisted announce that the American Jet Sport Affiliation will host a level of competition at the lake this weekend.. Jason Vorhees The Telegraph

The beach is still open, and will serve as the base for an American Jet Sport Association event this Friday through Saturday, officials announced during a Wednesday morning press conference.

The public can participate in the event Friday during The Corporate Challenge race, according to a Visit Macon press release. Beginning at 9 a.m., anyone can come out and ride the jet skis on Lake Tobesofkee with proceeds going toward the local Special Olympics.

The competition is open to the public who can purchase a day pass for $10 and kids 6 & under are free. Passes include access to all attractions Lake Tobesofkee has to offer. Alcohol is not permitted at the park and food trucks will be available at Sandy Beach Park all weekend.

No swimming will be allowed during the competition, which will run 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

This story includes reporting from the Telegraph and Center for Collaborative Journalism archives.

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