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Where the parks department is putting its focus for the next 10 years
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A picnic pavilion at Laurel Park is pictured Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County’s master plan for parks recommends about doubling the amount of facilities, with a focus on greenspace and community centers.

The plan, which was recently completed and will guide the parks department for the next decade, includes input from about 1,900 community members who took an online survey, five public meetings and interviews with county staff.

And the top request, trails and greenspace, lines up with the national trend toward walkability. Walking and hiking were also the top two activities survey respondents said they seek at county parks, with about half of people saying they walked or hiked. Playgrounds were in second place, with 32% of people using those, and various forms of exercise also proved popular — fitness, jogging or running, and biking all got 27%.

The county worked with Suwanee firm Clark Patterson Lee on the plan, which uses National Recreation and Parks Association standards as a guideline. According to those standards, Hall County should have 43 parks, greenspaces and natural areas. The county has 26. Based on projected growth of 20% by 2030, the county should have 57 facilities.

Parks Director Mike Little said while that number could be skewed — the master plan study did not count parks in the county’s municipalities or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks —there is still a need for more facilities, particularly in South Hall.

“We could always use additional multi-use fields or baseball and softball fields, and then in the county’s comprehensive master plan, there is mention of a state-of-the-art senior center in the southern end of the county,” he said.

In West Hall, community center would give the county’s parks “more of a regional presence,” Little said. North Hall and East Hall parks each have community centers, and Mulberry Creek Community Center serves South Hall.

The county is developing Butler Park on the southern side of Gainesville and is waiting on some grant funding to finish the project, Little said. Tadmore Park off Gillsville Highway, closed in 2011 due to county budget cuts, will eventually be reopened with a fire station at the park, although Little said the timeline has not been finalized. Preparations are underway to reopen Murrayville Park, also closed in 2011, possibly in summer 2020.

Healan’s Head’s Mill in Lula is also the site of a future county park, and the county has been working to restore the historic structure. The current goal is getting water flowing over the wheel again, and next up is another master plan focusing on just that property.

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Healan's Head's Mill in Lula, pictured Saturday, June 30, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Planners who evaluated the parks found that 15% were in excellent condition, 49% were in good condition, 26% were in fair condition and 10% were in poor condition. By 2030, Hall County Parks and Leisure is expected to have a deficit of 1,100 acres of park land and greenspace. 

“We have to continue to update our facilities, restoration projects on current facilities are important to us, and we have to look at land acquisition and additional facilities,” Little said.

Becky Ruffner, marketing and public relations specialist with county parks, said with that growing and changing population comes new expectations, particularly with young adults.

“We have a lot of younger, professional people that are making their home here, that are moving into the county, and choosing to stay where they grew up as well,” she said. “I think that the age group, the young professionals that you’re seeing today, have different desires that they’re looking for in a park organization.”

The community’s main expectations used to be athletics, ballfields and playgrounds, but now people would like to see more varied facilities, Ruffner said.

“While all of that is still a desire and still incredibly important, it feels like there’s a change in what young adults are looking for,” she said. “Those things seem to be things like trails, walking spaces, places where they can take their bicycles, places where they can play with their young families.”

Possible funding sources for upgrades include the county’s capital improvement fund, impact fees, the Special Local Option Sales Tax, grants and bonds, Little said.

What people want from their parks

Survey takers could select multiple categories 

  • Walking, hiking, jogging, nature trails and greenways: 61%

  • Bicycle and multi-use trails: 38% 

  • Community centers: 32% 

  • Playgrounds, 6-12-year-olds: 30% 

  • Nature center: 27% 

  • Fitness centers: 27% 

  • Football or soccer multi-purpose fields: 27%

  • Playgrounds, 2-5-year olds: 25%

  • Swimming Pool (indoors): 25%

  • Baseball or softball fields: 24%

  • Event or festival field/open play: 24%

  • Passive parks and open space: 23%

  • Dog park: 23% 

  • Gymnasium/indoor multi-use courts: 23%

  • Swimming pool (outdoors): 21% 

  • Mountain bike trails: 19%

  • Splash pad: 17% 

  • Fishing pier: 17% 

  • Historic or cultural facilities/sites: 16% 

  • Canoe/kayak launch: 16%

  • Basketball courts (outdoor): 14%

  • Tennis courts: 13% 

  • Senior Center: 12% 

  • Marina: 9% 

  • Pickleball courts: 7% 

  • Other: 6% 

  • Racquet or handball courts: 4%