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Gainesville, Hall park plans include skatepark, historic restorations
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Josh Rhodes and Angie Standridge walk on Saturday, March 10, 2018, along the paved trail at Laurel Park in North Hall County. - photo by David Barnes

Hall County and Gainesville parks systems are working on 10-year master plans to guide the future of park spaces.

Gainesville Parks and Recreation is working on its plan to identify new developments or renovations that may be needed. And while they wait on that to be completed, a five-year strategic plan is already being implemented.

Plans are well underway for a new youth athletic complex near the Allen Creek Soccer Complex, and architectural and engineering plans for a long sought-after skatepark in midtown will begin soon.

Melvin Cooper, director of Gainesville Parks and Rec, said the skate park is something a lot of people are looking forward to. Cooper said it will give skaters a safe place to legally skate instead of being run off everywhere else around the city.

Hall doesn’t have any plans for new parks, but Mike Little, director of the Hall parks department, said growth in the area doesn’t necessarily mean changes need to come now. However, having a master plan in place ensures Hall will be prepared down the road.

“We’ll have a consulting firm that does this for a living give us the map for the future of Hall County parks,” Little said. “They’ll look at our current inventory of parks and how many tennis courts we have, how many baseball fields, softball fields we have and they’ll assess if we’re going to have enough in 10 years to meet the demand and growth of Hall County.”

Both systems are working on a number of renovations at existing parks.

Renovations at Riverside Park will be completed by the end of the month and include a new playground, outdoor fitness equipment, new walkways and some improvements to landscaping.

There are also renovations coming to Desota Park, east of downtown Gainesville. Cooper said it should only take about 90-120 days to replace the tennis and basketball courts and some of the fencing, as well as work on landscape improvements.

At the City Park Playground, a brand new concessions and restroom building will replace the one that has been there for decades. Cooper said it’s long overdue, so it will be a nice update. They’ll also be adding a new shade structure, outdoor fitness equipment and free open play area to the park.

One of the more visible changes coming to city parks will be new signage as part of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s “Vision 2030” initiative.

Part of that initiative also involves installation of public art in the parks. One of the ideas is placing pianos painted by local artists in the parks and allowing people to play them whenever they are there.

Some of the biggest renovation projects in Hall are actually historic restorations.

Healan’s-Head’s Mill in Lula and the Roberts Log Home in Flowery Branch are both being worked on. The mill has entered Phase III of its renovation, which is all about getting the wheel to function. Little said they hope to have it done within the next year, but Phase IV “isn’t even on the table right now,” because of a lack of funding for it.

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Healan's-Head's Mill - photo by David Barnes

He said the Roberts Log Home, which is the oldest structure in Hall County, is much further along in its reconstruction and is almost finished at Cherokee Bluffs Park.

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Reconstruction work is almost complete March 10, 2018, at Robert's Log Home at Cherokee Bluffs Park in Flowery Branch. - photo by David Barnes

“All that will continue through this (special purpose local option sales tax) cycle until 2019, 2020 when it runs out,” Little said. “We will continue those upgrades and restorations, and that’s happening at just about every one of our parks.”

One of those parks is Murrayville Park, which closed in 2011, off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall. The commission approved $1.5 million in SPLOST VII funding recently, so Little said they will be moving ahead with renovations there.

He said plans for the park include dog parks, tennis courts and restoration to the baseball field and multipurpose field. They’ll also be adding new bathrooms and paving along with new parking. Although he said they “haven’t even started moving dirt yet,” the department is hoping to have it open in the fall.

After restorations to bathrooms and the splash pad in the summer of 2017 at Laurel Park, the parks department is looking at installing some outdoor fitness equipment.  

“It’s mostly resistance equipment that’s made for outdoors,” Little said. “Everything from pull-up bars to recumbent stuff that’s resistance-based, like sit-up tables.”

He said they’re also hoping to add new trails in addition to the 0.9-mile paved trail the park already has.

On the southern end of the county, Cherokee Bluffs Park is nearing completion after updates it has been receiving. A dog park and playground have already been completed, and they’re still working on a new nine-hole disc golf course. He said there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony once it’s fully completed in the spring.

South Hall is where the main focus over the coming years will be, where Little says he’s seeing the most growth. The parks department is hoping to provide more athletic facilities for the community in the southern part of the county, but he said they’ll have to wait to assess the need until after the 10-year master plan is completed.

“While we don’t really have any hard and fast, concrete plans or specifics, the whole purpose of a master plan is to get information to do a needs assessment, look at what’s out there in the way of things like available property, available green space,” said Becky Ruffner, marketing and public relations specialist with the parks department. “Looking at different areas of the county and the populations there and how are their parks- and leisure-type needs being met?”

Hall County Parks and Leisure is always looking to acquire land in general, but in South Hall especially. As the year goes on, Little predicts the 10-year master plan will require the parks department to do just that, whether it’s for development or simply conservation.

“We put a very high value on green space,” Little said. “Any green space we can get, as much as we can get and preserve.”

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