Gainesville and Hall County hope eventually to have a trail system that runs from Lake Lanier and Pearl Nix Parkway through downtown Gainesville and the southside to the Oakwood campus of the University of North Georgia.
While such a system wasn’t visualized at the time, it all started with Ivey Terrace Park, which Gainesville Rotary Club built in the 1920s on Gainesville’s northwest side and Civilian Conservation Corps improved in the 1930s.
In the early 1980s, Jimmy Hope, Gainesville park and recreation director at the time, walked through a densely wooded area just west of Ivey Terrace that the city had up for sale for $16,000. Hope could see another park out of that jungle, linking with Ivey Terrace. It was so thick with briars, kudzu, vines and undergrowth along Rock Creek, others were skeptical.
Nevertheless, the city designated it as a park, and with a $15,750 budget, donated materials and labor from prisoners, youth work projects and park and rec crews, Wilshire Trails became a reality in 1982. It runs between Pearl Nix Parkway and Ridgewood Terrace along Wilshire Road.
Later came Longwood Park, which hugs a Lake Lanier cove along Pearl Nix Parkway across from Gainesville High School. Hope’s budget for that park also was $15,750, including tennis courts. It was one of the first joint efforts between a municipality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Lanier.
“We built them both on a shoestring,” Hope said.
Now you can start walking or jogging at Longwood, through Wilshire Trails and Ivey Terrace to Rock Creek Gateway at the corner of Northside Drive and West Academy, through downtown Gainesville to the Midtown Greenway that presently ends at Martin Luther King Drive on the city’s southside.
But the gem is Wilshire Trails, about a mile of paved pathways following the creek through innumerable species of stately hardwoods that provide deep cooling shade in the summer and unrivaled color in the spring and fall. It’s even scenic in the dead of winter. The trail crosses the creek through a series of bridges, some covered as designed by Hope.
Dan Clark grew up in the neighborhood of what is now called the Rock Creek Greenway, which includes Ivey Terrace, Wilshire Trails and Longwood. The former quarry provided stone for some of the structures the CCC built and remain in Ivey Terrace. He and his friends built their own “sports complex,” including a football field, basketball goal, high jumping and pole vaulting pits. They also would climb the sheer 100-foot cliffs left by the quarry.
Curious users of Wilshire Trails wonder about a metal bar stuck between two oak trees behind a gazebo near the Ridgewood Terrace entrance. Clark put the “exercise bar” up, using two large nails bent over the bar when the trees were about 8 inches in diameter. That was 63 years ago in 1950; the trees have now grown around the bar as if somebody impaled it into their trunks.
He remembers a polluted Rock Creek that his friends avoided. The creek today runs clear except for litter left by some inconsiderate park users/abusers.
One of Wilshire Trail’s unique features is a rare American chestnut tree. A blight all but wiped out that species by 1950, but the one in Wilshire survived. For years, foresters would harvest its nuts to try to repopulate American chestnuts in other woodlands.
A rock monument in the middle of a flower garden tended by Hall County Master Gardeners pays tribute to two of Wilshire Trail’s visionaries and workers, Thomas Buffington and Clifford Hayes, neither of whom lived to see its completion.
Besides a litter problem, vandals lately have spray-painted graffiti in some spots along the trail, even some trees.
But the park remains a well-maintained jewel supported by Friends of the Parks and present park and rec director Melvin Cooper and his staff, whom Hope praised for continuing a vision of passive recreation through a system of trails.
It gives Hope satisfaction to see so many families using the parks, mothers pushing babies in strollers, joggers and walkers of all ages, many accompanied by their dogs. Remembering the rough terrain that characterized Wilshire Trails, he said additions and improvements have made the Rock Creek Greenway far exceed what he first visualized more than three decades ago.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.