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3 of the 'latest and greatest' features on Gainesville's Midland Greenway
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Pedestrians walk along the Midland Greenway trail July 14, 2022, where a new dog park is preparing to open. - photo by Scott Rogers

Editor's note: This story previously published in the August 2022 edition of Flight Magazine, a publication of The Times.

The Midland Gainesville Railway ran out of steam long ago, but growth and redevelopment in the urban district sharing its namesake is chugging right along on the railroad’s otherwise abandoned route.

From its trailhead at Wild Wing Cafe on Jesse Jewell Parkway to Industrial Boulevard, the Midland Greenway (formerly known as the Midtown Greenway) connects the heart of the city with the 35-mile Highlands to Islands trail network. 

Its main entrance sits just south of the Gainesville square at 682 Grove St.

It’s been the centerpiece of a $2 million multi-phase revitalization project overseen by Gainesville Parks and Recreation, and the department has lived up to its name, delivering an array of amenities that afford easy access to biking and pedestrian trails, a skate park and public art. But those only scratch the surface of all the Midland Greenway has to offer.

Engine 209 Park

Gainesville’s Engine 209 made a big move last summer, and now, the veteran locomotive is the centerpiece of midtown’s newest park, giving visitors easier access to fun and local history.

For 30 years, Engine 209 sat at the intersection of Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street. Before that, the engine was on display at the grounds of the old train depot, which is now home to The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center. 

The engine ran on the Gainesville Midland railway, which connected Gainesville with Athens and Jefferson starting in 1906. Train cars carried textiles, building materials, coal and other commodities through the city, helping promote population growth in the early 20th century. Engine 209 was built in 1930 and made its last trip in 1959. 

“It’s made the train much more accessible,” Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Kate Mattison said upon the park’s opening in May. “When it was over off Jesse Jewell, it was just a drive-by feature. There wasn’t any parking over there to speak of, and even when you walked up to the train, there was a fence between you and the train, and now it’s a lot more accessible.”

The park also features a playground with slides, picnic tables, a boardwalk over a pond and a large mural.

Inclusive Playground

Just a stone’s throw from the historic engine and caboose, a 6,500-square-foot playground gives inclusivity a place to run free.

Opened in April, the structure is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, offering a place for children of all ages and physical abilities to play. 

With ramps, gliders and other adaptive features, the structure affords easy and equitable access for wheelchair users, while music panels, gravity cubes and accelerator swings aim to increase gross motor skills and adapt to children’s vestibular and proprioceptive senses, which relate to movement and body awareness, respectively.

“We think about touch, taste, smell, hearing — but there’s a couple more (senses),” Mattison said. “Some of the features that we have (on the playground) offer these different types of sensory experiences in different ways. It’s a complete array.”

Offering such amenities has been a dream of the department’s for the better part of a decade, according to Mattison.

“We have talked for a long time that we don’t have enough therapeutic recreation or adaptive programming, and we’re trying to increase that and be more inclusive in everything that we offer,” Mattison said. “We’re not experts on the topic, but we want to do what’s right for as many people as possible. We are definitely learning as we grow, we are doing our absolute best.”

As for the playground — and Midland Greenway at large — the department’s intention is to provide a “safe, stress-free, enjoyable environment” not only for the children at play, but their parents and guardians as well.

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An inclusive playground sits along the Midland Greenway trail in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers
Dog Park

Slated to open later this month, the city’s first dog park — easily locatable thanks to the 8-by-11-foot dog sculpture standing watch nearby — spans about an acre.

Although a bit smaller in comparison to other parks in the Atlanta metro area, according to Mattison, the Gainesville dog park provides a safe place for dogs to run and play off-leash — especially those who live in apartments and don’t necessarily have a greenspace right outside their door.

“It’s the perfect place for it, particularly because we’re seeing so much influx of apartment-type housing,” Mattison said. “A lot of the older homes in Gainesville have half-acre or more yards, which is great, so that might not be the type of person or family that needs a dog park necessarily, unless they’re looking for socialization for their dog. But for those people who live in Solis, or those who are going to live in the new Midland apartments … there’s just not as much greenspace for those people, and I think it’ll be really nice for them to have that opportunity.” 

Other features in the works
  • Near the new restroom facility on Banks Street, a 38-by-38-foot functional fitness court designed for adults of all ages and abilities is projected to open in September. Unlike the outdoor bike or stair climber often found at playgrounds, the space is equipped with more “traditional circuit training” equipment targeting seven different workout zones: core exercises, squats, push-ups and pull-ups, agility, lunges and bends. QR codes will connect users to an app with workout tutorials.

  • By October, the entirety of the Midland Greenway will be illuminated from dusk till dawn by bollard lighting, increasing visitors’ sense of safety and security as they walk, run or bike — especially in the fall and winter months, when the sun goes down before many folks finish their evening commute.

  • Design and construction plans are being finalized for a “concert series-style venue” at the Midland Greenway’s main entrance on Grove Street. The venue will likely include an amphitheater and covered stage for performances, small restroom facility, stage structures and a paver plaza with food truck pop-up stations and permanent seating. Mattison hopes to see construction begin sometime after the city’s Mule Camp festival in October.

Enclosing the perimeter of the park, the fencing extends into the woods, providing additional shade and space to play.

“That’s not something that you see much (at dog parks) — it’s typically just an open field with a fence around it — but it’s so nice, because dogs love to play in the woods,” Mattison said.

In addition to benches, trash cans and a water fountain with a dog bowl at the bottom, the dog park’s amenities are set to include a tunnel with a mound on top for dogs to run over and under, natural play features like downed trees and large rocks for climbing and a dog wash station.

“We’re packing a lot of different features into a very, very small segment,” Mattison said. “It’s really great to have so many amenities along the trail — to bring people to the space, bring events, bring community to that area. There were so many businesses that were just empty buildings and now you’re seeing a ton of new things pop up in that area, and that’s exactly what that vision was.”

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The Midland Greenway trail July 14, 2022, where a new dog park is to be built. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Engine 209 Park sits along Gainesville's Midland Greenway. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Visitors to the Midland Greenway trail walk along the sidewalks through Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers