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Commissioners look to new park
Commissioners at Henderson Park site
Bryan County Commissioners Glen Willard, Rick Gardner and Toby Roberts, and County Administrator Phil Jones at the site of Henderson Park at Highway 144 and Belfast-Keller Road. They are standing near where home plate will be for one of the future baseball fields. The park, which will accommodate a large number of sporting events and leisure activities, has been in the works for more than a decade. - photo by Photo by Ross Blair
Members of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners recently visited the future site of the Dee Henderson Memorial Recreation Park down Highway 144 to discuss the project and reflect on a decade’s worth of work that has gone into making the park a reality.
Commissioners Glen Willard, Rick Gardner and Toby Roberts, along with County Administrator Phil Jones and land developer Johnny Murphy, walked around the site as they contemplated on the final product and the effects it will have on the community.
Signs are placed throughout the site indicating where the playing fields will be erected. The first phase of the park will include four regulation football-soccer fields, three baseball diamonds, three softball fields, parking, a frisbee/dog park, walking trails and tennis courts. In addition, there will be areas for a variety of other activities including roller blading, field hockey and fishing.
Afire/EMS/police substation will be built next to it on the site, and there is the potential for a nearby sheriff’s complex in the future.
Future phases of the park will include a multi-purpose center, basketball courts, skate park, roller hockey arena and a variety of other things.
The soccer-football fields are close to completion. A motion was passed at the last commission meeting to have artificial turf which will expedite the work even more. Jones said they should be ready for play by the fall, noting that the county is currently putting together a package for bid on the construction of the football-soccer fields and is finishing the road survey for roadwork in which DOT has already allocated funds.
The group agreed that this month they plan on appointing a committee made up of citizens and recreation board members to create a plan to complete each of the recreation components. Once that plan is in hand, they will be able to prioritize the work that needs to be done on the park, which should get the ball rolling.
The Henderson Park project has been in the works for over a decade and is finally coming into place. It initially started with the county trying to purchase the plot of land from Rayonier. After years of getting nowhere with the negotiations, while contemplating condemnation, county officials approached Bryan Land and Timber manager Johnny Murphy, who had had success in acquiring land from Rayonier in the past, including the land on both sides of the park tract which his company turned into the Oxford and Buckhead subdivisions.
Murphy was indeed able to negotiate the deal, which initially was to include land for a new school. The BoE and Murphy have not been able to come to terms, but Jones noted that there is still plenty of room for potential schools on the tract.
“After we got the land, the rec association jumped on board and helped promote the SPLOST bill which has helped tremendously,” Gardner said. “You can’t tag this on any one person. It’s been a ten year venture of many individuals to get where we are right now.”
Willard noted that SPLOST will account for nearly three million dollars on the project. He added that the state has a program where they can fund approved projects with advance funding and pay the loan off with 1% money as it comes in, which is a big help to the park project.
The group collectively discussed of how, when completed, the site will make Bryan County a destination for area tournaments, which will have a very positive economic impact in both visitors spending dollars on local businesses and residual effects of being able to showcase the community to outsiders. Jones even stated that the park should eventually pay for itself as a result of this.
Roberts noted that, for years, the commission has heard dissension from the rec board over the fact that they were unable to host a number of major recreation tournaments as they did not have the space to accommodate them.
The park still has a good ways to go, but the outline of the park can now be seen in a large plot of land that was forestry just a short time ago. Bryan Land and Timber donated their time and materials to get to this stage. The commissioners estimate the work to be valued at just under $1 million.
Gardner mentioned that, without this work, the county would be a year behind on the project. Murphy said that it is a solid investment in the community which will benefit not only Bryan Land and Timber, but also the community at large.
“This is not just recreation for the athletes and little kids,” said Murphy. “There is a lot of stuff here for the aging population. There’s a lot of stuff, like walking trails and picnic grounds that parents and grandparents can do while the kids are playing sports.”
“We hope to tie the walkway all the way to Fort McAllister and J.F. Gregory Park,” said Roberts.
Jones said that the county is working on grants for the walkway plan, and that they have already received one to get it started, which will allow the first phase of the path to stretch for several miles.
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