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Plans for rural, lakeside parks top talks at this recent Dawson County meeting
Long range March 2023
Parks and Rec Director Matt Payne, center, speaks about Dawson County’s need for more public parks at the Long Range Planning Committee’s March 22 meeting. - photo by Julia Hansen

The futures of public recreation options in Dawson County were front and center during the Long Range Planning Committee’s most recent meeting. 

This story continues below.

From 2018 to 2022, registrations for athletic programs have increased by 41%, with overall foot traffic to county parks also up 51%, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne told attendees.

Those figures account for youth sports as well as camps, clinics and fitness classes for youth and adult users. In fact, registrations are already up 6% so far this year, the director added. 

“The fact of the matter is that it’s time to start thinking about a new park and a new rec center,” Payne said. “Because our numbers are just exploding and [at] our court rec centers, there’s not enough court time to do what we want to do.” 

The Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) is an advisory group that holds meetings the last Wednesday of every month starting at 11 a.m. in the Dawson County Government Center’s second-floor Administrative Training Room.


LRPC acting chair Jane Graves explained that population growth and the outlook for local parks spurred Payne presence at the March 22 meeting. 

“It’s a really important part of what people want to see and do when they come here,” Graves said of area recreation options. 

Dawson County currently manages River, Rock Creek, Veterans Memorial and War Hill parks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns War Hill Park, and Dawson County has a 25-year lease with the Corps to manage it, Payne said. 

To address some of the recreational growth, the Board of Commissioners approved one additional athletic coordinator and park maintenance position on March 16 after Payne requested the roles earlier in the month. 

Work has also been ongoing on ADA-compliant field and re-sodding projects at Rock Creek and turf fields there and at Veterans Memorial Park. 

Payne underlined the county’s need to acquire land for another facility similar to Rock Creek Park, whether property is donated or purchased with impact fees. 

“We’re growing that much. We’ve got to get another [recreation] building built and another ball field built to accommodate our youth athletics, which is just exploding,” he said. 

While his intent would be to establish another park on the county’s eastern side, the director said that his department “would take what we can get.” 

“How many acres would you need?”, said Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell.

“At least 50 acres,” Payne said. 

There’s also potential with the 120 acres of land that longtime county resident Anne Styles and her family donated to the county last year. The Styles land sits off of Ga. 183 and Elliott Family Parkway and features forested land and rolling pastures with mountain views to the north. 

BOC Trails 2023 Styles land park
Part of the donated Styles land overlooks a pasture area on another part of the property where cattle are kept. DCN had permission to be on the Styles land. - photo by Julia Hansen

In February, the BOC approved Payne’s request to begin the application process for a Georgia Department of Natural Resources grant to go toward establishing a park on the land. 

If awarded, the state grant would ideally fund the construction of biking and walking trails at the property, Payne added. 

“Again, this is in the very early stages of it,” he said of potential plans, “but we are super excited about getting this piece of property and doing this passive park area.”

Lakeside parks

Local leaders are in “active negotiations” for joint leases on three lakeside parks in Dawson County after the Corps approached them last year, Payne said at the meeting. 

He said the county’s talks with the Corps have covered the best way to care for Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek and Toto Creek parks along Lake Lanier. 

Long range March 2023 3
Dawson County is in active negotiations with the Corps of Engineers to secure joint leases for Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek and Toto Creek parks along Lake Lanier. File photo.

These discussions followed early seasonal closures of lakeside parks in the fall, surprising and upsetting some Dawson-area residents. 

The county attorney is currently looking over the terms of the proposed joint leases, Payne said. Under the terms, both the Corps and the county would have a say with what happens at those three parks.

Whereas Dawson County handles all of the programming and maintenance, they and the Corps would divvy up those responsibilities under a joint lease agreement. 

“The Corps of Engineers do not want to take those parks off of their books because it affects their federal funding,” Payne said. “If they’re not showing it being on their books at all, then the federal government says well then you don’t need X amount of dollars.” 

“I don’t know if you’ve been to Nix Bridge, Thompson Creek or Toto [Creek] recently,” the director later added, “but they could use some love. They could use some maintenance. That’s something that we can do and something that we take a lot of pride in.” 

Graves said that even though the county has a full lease for War Hill Park, “anything done has to pass muster with the Corps.”

Payne confirmed that and pointed to the forthcoming master plan update, which he expects to be able to “present to the public in another month or so.”
The proposed update would then go back to the Corps for approval as part of what Payne called “an incredibly long process.” 

“I say all that to say we’re definitely going to be taking over these other three lake parks probably by the fall and by the very latest, we’ll start facilitating in the next year,” Payne said. 

Graves mentioned potential in the 200-plus-acre Pea Ridge Park in Dawson County, accessible through a Forsyth County portion of Ga. 53. 

With its location, steep topography in part of the land and some lake access, Graves said that put the Pea Ridge area in “prime position for potentially some recreational use.” 

DCN will provide more park updates when more information becomes available.