The theme of the year for recreation has been connectivity.
Trails were the top request in surveys and at public meetings held by both the city of Gainesville and Hall County.
The Highlands to Islands Trail, a planned countywide network of multi-use trails and side paths along roads in Gainesville and South Hall, already has some portions open. And in February, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization approved a study that outlines the route for those trails.
While the Highlands to Islands Trail is not a county or city parks project, both parks departments are working on other projects and parks that will keep people active, whether outdoors or inside at a community center.
Longtime Gainesville parks director Melvin Cooper will be retiring in May after 47 years with the city. The Gainesville Parks and Recreation Board has named one finalist, Kate Mattison, a recreation administrator in Ohio, for the position, although the decision has not been finalized.
But Cooper and the parks staff have still been busy with several projects.
Construction is set to begin in July for a skate park at High and Pine streets in midtown Gainesville. The park will include ramps, pipes, drops and bowls and was designed by Wally Hollyday, a California-based skate park designer.
The approximately 20,000-square-foot skate park is expected to open in early 2020, Cooper said. The $1.5 million project will be funded by impact fees, one-time fees the city charges for new construction.
Also starting in July is an $850,000 improvement project in Gainesville City Park, near the Gainesville Civic Center. The park will get a new concessions stand, pavilion and playground, and those additions should be ready in December, Cooper said.
The city is finishing its parks master plan, which will guide the department through 2030. More than 1,600 people took an online survey, and the city also held a meeting for public input. People requested more green space and trails, Cooper said. There will be another public meeting for the community to comment on the plan when it is complete, likely in May, Cooper said.
The city is also looking for a site for a new youth sports complex that will be named after Cooper. Plans for the complex include six baseball fields, batting cages, a playground and pavilion, trails, and two fields that could be used for soccer, football or lacrosse.
Trails and green space were also the top requested amenities in Hall County’s parks master plan meetings and survey, said Mike Little, Hall’s parks director.
“I think it’s self-guided recreation that people enjoy,” Little said.
Both the city and county began seeking public input on their master plans in late 2018 and early 2019.
The county hopes to reopen Murrayville Park, which closed in 2011 due to budget cuts during the economic recession. Little said that $1.5 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding has been set aside for the project, but no timeline has been set.
The reopened Murrayville Park is expected to have tennis courts, a new playground, restored baseball and multi-use fields and a small walking trail.
Tadmore Park, also closed during 2011 cuts, is now only open for some scheduled events. Little said the county hopes to restore the restrooms and playground and open the park soon.
Another park that closed in 2011 reopened in July 2018 — Platt Park in South Hall. Little said the park on E. Reed Road in Gainesville has stayed busy.
“The baseball and softball fields are being used extensively. It’s slowed a little bit with the weather, but people are really enjoying the pavilion,” Little said.
Next on the agenda is some improvements at River Forks Park, including new equipment at two playgrounds expected in July.
The biggest project on tap, though, is Healan’s Head’s Mill in Lula, which the county is working to restore and turn into a 100-acre park with trails and a history center. The timeline for that park will depend on funding — the money will come from fundraising by a community committee and grants the county receives.