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County hires new parks and recreation director
Selected over 34 applicants
Matt Payne Mug
Matt Payne.

Matt Payne has joined Dawson County as the new parks and recreation director, replacing Lisa Henson, who resigned in June after serving 11 years as director.

Payne, 45, was most recently employed as the athletic coordinator at the city of Cumming recreation and parks department. He had served in that role since 1999. Prior to that he was athletic coordinator at Forsyth County Parks and Recreation for four years.

A Forsyth Central High School graduate, Payne has lived in north Forsyth county his whole life.

He said he decided to pursue the new position because he was looking for a new challenge.

“I had been at the city of Cumming for just about 20 years, and when this role presented itself it allowed me to be more on the administrative side of parks and recreation than just the athletic side,” Payne said. “Plus it’s close to home and I love the small town atmosphere, and in the city of Cumming and Forsyth we just don’t have that anymore. I love the sense of community.”

One of the things he wants to focus on is integrating into the community. 

"I think the staff already in place here is phenomenal. They do a good job of providing recreation to this community already, I just hope I can come in and take that to the next level," he said. “Personally one of the first things I want to do is make sure that our staff and myself become part of this community, we want to make sure that it's not just a director who’s driving in and doing his 8 to 5 and then he’s jetting at the end of the day. I want my family to become part of the community and make sure our staff that is already doing that continues in that mold.”  

Payne also said he wants to continue the work that Henson started with updating Veteran’s Memorial Park. Earlier this year a brand new pool house opened to the public and the entire park was repaved, and a new senior center and a facelift for the gym are in the works.

“That’s the park that most folks around here grew up in, and they want to see it beautified, and we want to take that serious and do that,” he said. 

"I just believe that there is such a fundamental need for good recreation. It not only helps with the physical and emotional state of our community but it helps with property values," he continued. "We want to make sure we’re providing a safe, organized recreation department that the citizens can benefit from."

According to County Manager David Headley, 34 people applied for the position, with three selected for second interviews. Payne said that being selected out of a pool that size spoke to his experience and ability to get along with anyone.

“I think I bring an energy, I bring a great deal of experience in the youth athletics, and that typically becomes the backbone of a recreation department,” he said.

Headley said he was extremely excited to have Payne join the county.

“His vision for the future of Dawson County will bring much enjoyment to the citizens who utilize the park system, and he will certainly enhance our athletics program,” Headley said.

Payne’s first day with the county was July 9.

Payne has been married to Melissa for 16 years and the two have three children, Hayden, Canaan and Shelton. He is an avid University of Georgia Bulldogs fan as well as the Atlanta Braves. A golfer and outdoorsman, his favorite parks and rec sport is youth basketball.

“That’s where I’ve made a professional career out of, and that’s the thing I like to facilitate the best,” he said.