For more than 10 years, county officials have attempted to create a "downtown" in Evans as the focal point for the unincorporated and unofficial center of the community.
Citizens got an updated look at that vision last week in the form of plans for polishing the jewel at the center of that "downtown": the Evans Town Center Park.
Though the name of the park lacks imagination, the plans for its development take a long-range view of the 17-acre site - also known as the Doctors Hospital Field or "the field behind Kroger." It'll take time and a lot of money, but the result will be a tremendous gift to the future citizens of this community.
Plans for the park, a draft of which was unveiled last week for public comment, were drawn up by consultants with Atlanta-based Jordan, Jones and Goulding Inc. The plan, along with a video of that hearing and space for further public comment, is available on the county's Web site: www.columbiacountyga.gov.
An earlier draft of a plan for the park seemed to violate the greatest value of the site - its vast open space. That plan split the park into separate fields and bisected it with a paved plaza.
Public response was negative, and the county put together a committee to review ideas for the park's development. (Note: News-Times publisher Barry Paschal served on this committee.)
Armed with responses from citizens and the committee's recommendations, the consultants put together the plan unveiled last week. It also divides the park into separate areas to allow for multiple uses, but mostly preserves the park's open feel.
The amenities are right out of the public's playbook. Playgrounds were the top request, so the park has two - one for toddlers, and one for older children. Walking paths are included, as are picnic areas, pavilions and restrooms. There's even a "zero-depth" fountain for children to play in during the summer.
Some of these features are similar to Richmond County's much-smaller Brookfield Park, visible from River Watch Parkway. The difference is that rather than building a park and presenting it as a done deal, commissioners and the county's Community and Leisure Services Division have done a good job of designing the future park with citizen input.
True, some ideas ought to be erased from the drawing board. For example, citizens at the public meeting made it clear that on-street parking along Town Center Drive is a dangerously bad idea. And there have been occasional rumblings that commissioners might want to put county office buildings on a portion of the park.
For now, though, citizens should be excited about such a significant investment in quality of life for Columbia County's future. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and our grandchildren will thank us for it.
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