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What Gainesville residents want to see in city parks
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Mack Cain, a park planner working with the Gainesville Parks and Recreation, speaks during a meeting taking input from the public on the parks master plan at the Gainesville Civic Center on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Gainesville residents told parks employees and planners Thursday that they hoped to see more biking and walking trails — an idea that planners said was popular across demographics and also was requested at similar meetings for Hall County Parks and Leisure.

Gainesville Parks and Recreation is working on a master plan that will guide the department through 2030. The plan includes an inventory of current facilities at the city’s 22 parks and will use public input to provide recommendations for new facilities or programs. Community members can also take a survey to provide feedback.

Mack Cain, a senior landscape architect with Clark Patterson Lee, said the master plan helps ensure that new facilities the city may build would be put to good use and are an accurate reflection of what the community wants to see.

“Oftentimes that’s how it happens. The person who happens to have the influence decides what happens,” Cain said. “The progressive counties and cities actually go to the trouble of doing these kinds of plans to make sure that the money is well spent and spent in the right place. The last thing you want to do is build a bunch of tennis courts and nobody plays tennis.”

Cain also worked with Hall County on its recent parks master plan, and the city also hired the Foresite Group for the project.

One of the most popular requests at the meeting was trails, and residents said they wanted to be able to walk to parks rather than having to drive to get there. Trails are appealing to both younger and older people and have become the most widely requested parks amenity, Cain said.

“We’re hearing that people want to be connected. They want to be able to walk from place to place,” he said.

People also said they wanted to see more sidewalks in the city, and while installing those would not be the responsibility of the parks department, the city is working on connectivity for the Highlands to Islands Trail, a trail network throughout the county that would increase walkability.

Other suggestions included a community garden, better lighting at lake access points, more parks on the lake, more exercise classes and more adult-friendly equipment like swings or slides so parents and grandparents could play with their children.

One community member also suggested that if Gainesville relocates Engine 209, the train receives its own dedicated park. The train now sits at the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street and is the center of a city park, but the city would relocate the historic engine if the 1.7-acre city property is sold. The Gainesville Redevelopment Authority is offering the property to the Northeast Georgia Health System for $1.2 million, but Knight Commercial Realty has the first option on the land.

There will be a second public meeting after planners have a list of recommendations to present to officials.

Cain said families should especially encourage their children to take the survey. Out of more than 2,000 people who took Hall County’s parks survey, which closed last week, only five were children, Cain said.

“Who uses parks the most? … I guarantee you, a 12-year-old has a totally different idea of what he wants to do in a park than an old guy like me,” he said.