A little bill from a South Carolina congressman was all it took to rename the artificial lake that straddles the Georgia border to Lake Thurmond.
But it won't be that easy, say locals - many of them Georgians - who have raised 80,000 signatures to change the name of the 70,000-acre body of water back to Clarks Hill Lake."I don't care how long it takes, we'll get the name restored," said Roy Giles, leader of the group that calls itself "Keep our Lake Clarks Hill." With the Georgia Legislature stepping in this spring to support the name restoration, "it's become the war between the states," he said.
"It's Still Clarks Hill to Me" say T-shirts and caps for sale at stores in both states.
Clarks Hill Lake itself is a relatively new phenomenon, the result of a 1946 Army Corps of Engineers dam on the Savannah River. But residents on both sides of the lake had no problem with the name until Dec. 3, 1987.
On that date, Rep. Butler Derrick, D-S.C., introduced a bill in Congress changing the name from Clarks Hill to Thurmond Lake, in honor of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who turned 85 years old two days later.
The Senate approved the measure the next day, and then-President Reagan signed it into law a few weeks later.
No public hearings were held, much to the dismay of local residents.
Some of them cited a deep emotional attachment to the old name, and others said they had built a business reputation on it, bringing national fishing tournaments and speedboat races and investing in souvenirs.
In March 1988, Thurmond received a petition with 42,000 signatures from people in both states asking that he recommend a compromise - that the name of the lake be restored to Clarks Hill, while the dam and road retain his name.
Thurmond responded that he liked having a lake in his name.
The group kept up its campaign, buying radio, television and newspaper ads and collecting more than 80,000 signatures.
When the signatures reached 72,000, Georgia state Rep. Bill Jackson said, "Probably my driveway is the only thing named after me, but if 72,000 people asked me to change it, I would."
Thurmond did ask that the words "at Clarks Hill" be added to the new sign on the dam, so it now reads: "J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake at Clarks Hill." That change was made not in an effort to quiet complaints but to help clear confusion that might exist for people who knew the lake by its old name, said Thurmond spokesman Christopher Simpson.
Giles said he would like to see the sign read "J. Strom Thurmond Dam at Clarks Hill Lake."
Meanwhile, all the signs in Georgia still say Clarks Hill, as do some of the signs in South Carolina. The South Carolina signs will be changed to Thurmond as they wear out.