After years of planning by county officials, DeVaul Henderson Park finally opened up to the public on Saturday, March 7.
The park is not totally completed, but Saturday marked the unveiling of the soccer/football fields, a walking trail, a senior boys’ baseball field and the concession stands.
"I think it’s great that the county in investing in our kids," RHRA President Sanford Carter said. "This facility is definitely needed because we’ve outgrown the facilities that we have."
Carter said one of the goals of the rec association is to bring rec events, like the popular ‘Battle of the Hill’ football event, onto the new fields.
"Most people don’t realize this has been 14 years in the making," County Commissioner Toby Roberts said.
Roberts said the park is designed not just for kids, but for people of all ages. He said the park’s walking trail will eventually stretch all the way to J.F. Gregory Park and is accessible for golf carts, walking and bicycles.
Roberts said the park would have been built earlier, but it took many years of negotiating with land owners Rayonier to attain the land. He said Henderson, as county attorney, began working on the project in 1996 and was instrumental in keeping everyone on track and beginning the legal process on the land.
Just as they were about to give up on the property, Johnny Murphy, who has a long track record in negotiating with Rayonier, was brought in to help, and Murphy helped sealed the deal.
"Murphy helped negotiate the contract down to $6,000 an acre, which is a great deal by any stretch of the imagination," County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said. "So we owe a great deal of gratitude for Bryan Land and Timber for this as well as donating about $800,000 worth of clearing."
Burnsed said the park is a "state of the art complex. There’s nowhere you’ll see synthetic athletic fields like this outside of Atlanta." He said the park has thus far costed $7 million, but "all of this is being paid for with the one cent SPLOST money. It’s not being added to your home taxes. Probably two-thirds of that tax money comes from money spent by people passing through South Bryan County."
"At the end of the day, the citizens of Bryan County are the winner in this deal," Roberts said. "The word is not completely out yet, but I think everyone will get excited about this project once they spend some time in the park."
A ribbon cutting was conducted, but, before that, Henderson’s children and widow took part in a dedication ceremony. Henderson’s eldest son Frank Henderson said he and his brothers spent many years playing RHRA sports and their dad spent many years as an RHRA coach.
"This park would be a dream fulfilled for him," Frank Henderson said. "I remember when we used to travel to places like Statesboro and he would always comment on how nice the facilities were there. He would always say, ‘We need something like this in Richmond Hill,’ and now we have that. I know our dad would be proud of this wonderful place and be truly honored to know that kids will now have an opportunity to play in a place that bears his name."
The remainder of day included a live concert by local musician Larry Barker, softball and soccer clinics, and the kick-off of Little League Baseball season.
South Bryan Recreation Director Kay Green said phase one of the park is almost complete. Weather conditions halted the completion of the grass soccer fields, but she said that and three additional softball fields will be completed by fall. She anticipates another celebration to be held in early fall when the remainder of phase one is complete.
Also coming soon is a connecting walkway to hook the park trail up to the existing walking trail on Hwy. 144. Green said the grants have already been applied for, so it is in the works.
Future phases will feature tennis courts, a new gymnasium with basketball courts, a disc golf course and a dog park. For more information on the park, call 756-4626 or visit www.RHRASports.org.