Lake Lanier Olympic Park, one of Gainesville’s popular and historic sites, has made a significant revamp to its layout and amenities since the COVID-19 pandemic, and might have more additions on the way.
The site of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games rowing, canoe and kayak events is looking to finish a phase of upgrades that began with the completion of the Olympic Ring Plaza and the relocation of the iconic Olympic Rings last March.
Last week, the site’s restrooms, which have been in place since the 1950s when the site was exclusively Clarks Bridge Park, were demolished.
In its place will be new restroom facilities ready by September, Robyn Lynch, director of tourism for the Gainesville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said.
The plaza’s centerpiece is the Olympic Rings structure which was moved to sit in front of the tower that was once home to the race finish line and timekeeper area during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games’ rowing and kayak competitions.
Relocated from the park’s butterfly garden, the rings now sit between stone benches that were installed last year.
“The Olympic Ring Plaza gives visitors and athletes an opportunity to learn about the history of the Olympic Rings,” Lynch said. "And also the timing tower as well as a beautiful backdrop for photos with the tower and beautiful views of Lake Lanier.”
The plaza was funded through contributions from The Lake Lanier Olympic Park Foundation and Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance.
Additionally, the park also has plans in place to add a new boathouse, walking trails, an additional courtesy dock and a covered outdoor venue for live entertainment on the plaza.
Many of the completed and planned improvements are a part of Lake Lanier Olympic Park’s master plan from 2018, which “covers so many aspects of the park,” according to Lynch.
No timelines were given for when the other additions will be installed but Lynch said those plans are “on the horizon.”
Lynch told The Times that residents and visitors should “stay tuned” for upcoming capital improvement announcements, as the city embarks on its budget sessions in the coming months.
Lake Lanier became the site for the 1996 Olympic Games rowing events at the request and urging of former 1952 Olympic gold medalist Bill Fields.
Today, Lake Lanier Olympic Park is the only Atlanta Olympics venue that is still used for its original purpose — as the park holds boating and rowing competitions year-round.
And the site that originally was built to accommodate the world’s best rowers on the Olympics stage has become a tourist destination for the city of Gainesville and an attractive destination for visiting families.
According to Lynch, the site welcomed roughly 200,000 visitors in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic canceling a slew of events.
“Since 2016 we have seen a steady increase of visitors,” Lynch said. “Lake Lanier Olympic Park continues to offer the community a wonderful opportunity to get out and enjoy Lake Lanier such as picnics with the family, beach and swimming access.”
With the upcoming summer expected to be less restricted by COVID-19 protocols due to the state’s relaxed restrictions and ongoing vaccination efforts, Lynch said the park is continuing its scheduled events such as Food Truck Fridays and summer events such as The Lake Show, a Southern Roots concert and Beach Bash.
Lake Lanier Olympic Park last month resumed Food Truck Fridays and has held other events with recommended guidelines for social distancing and sanitization, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.