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'All-inclusive for the entire community': Dawson Parks and Rec celebrates 50 years
Current Parks and Rec director Matt Payne (right) stands with former directors who were recognized at Sunday’s 50th anniversary celebration. - photo by Rio White

The Dawson County community enjoyed food, fun and a flea market as the county Parks and Recreation Department marked its 50th anniversary with a celebration at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday, Aug. 6. 

After being delayed on a couple of occasions due to inclement weather, the event finally came together through the work of director Matt Payne, the department staff and the many vendors who participated.

The day’s festivities began with an indoor flea market followed by the recognition of former department directors. After that, the day resumed with an outdoor frenzy of food vendors and children’s activities.

For Payne, the event was more than just a reflection of a milestone — it was a celebration of the department’s role as a place where children and adults alike in Dawson County can have an affordable outlet for athletic activity. 

“Our greatest achievement is being able to offer opportunities for kids who otherwise may never get [those],” Payne said. “We want [parks and rec] to be all-inclusive for the entire community.”

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One individual recognized at the opening ceremony was Lloyd Crane, whose influence in the community has spanned generations.

Crane helped establish Parks and Rec in Dawson County long before it became a facet of the local government. 

Through years of planning, hard work and a simple vision of giving to the community, the foundations forged by Crane and others eventually became the thriving recreational structure that the county has today.

Even he is amazed that the Parks and Rec department has achieved a half-century of growth.

“I never dreamed that when I started it would turn into what it is today but I’m glad it did,” Crane said. “A lot of kids went through the [parks and rec] system and I’m just glad I was part of it.”

Through Crane and the directors who have since led the department, Dawson County’s parks and rec infrastructure is in a great place, according to Payne. Since he took over as director in 2018, Payne has overseen continued improvements that include the new turf fields at Rock Creek Park. 

All of those accomplishments have given Payne a sense of pride in how far the department has come.

“If you ask anyone in our north Georgia community, we are the envy of all the other rec departments,” Payne said. “That comes from the support of the commissioners and the devotion of my staff. They put their whole heart and soul into this department and do a great job at it.”