By Joel Hall
After six years of planning, the City of Lake City soon will have its own 29-acre nature preserve. With the help of the Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA), Jester's Creek will run through the area, as it once did several decades ago.
On Tuesday, Lake City and water authority officials broke ground on the Lake City Nature Preserve and East Jester's Creek Stream Restoration Phase 4 project.
The Lake City Nature Preserve, scheduled to be completed within one year, will sit on 29 acres of land behind the Lake City Municipal Center. According to Ron Gossett, project manager for the preserve, the large-scale nature park will include 1.7 miles of walking trails, a man-made lake with a waterfall feature, pavilions, and observation areas.
"There's been so much construction over the last 15-to-20 years that they've [city officials have] seen all of the city's wooded areas bulldozed," Gossett said. "This place grew up in the 1960s, and 1970s, and we didn't conserve much of the land. This was their last chance to reclaim some of that. It adds to the quality of life to be able to get out into the country, but still be in town," he said. "We hope to provide them with a quiet place to get out and enjoy nature."
Included in the project is the restoration of 1,650 linear feet of East Jester's Creek. Since 2001, the water authority has restored natural water flow to three other sections of Jester's Creek, one located outside of Riverdale and two located within the city limits of Morrow, according to CCWA Stormwater Manager Kevin Osbey.
"This started with our watershed improvement program that started in 2001," Osbey said. "In that study, we found different stream sections that were impacted. We saw more construction, and with more construction, more water was introduced into the stream. As more water began hitting the stream, you saw more erosion.
"On the stream banks you saw a lot of silt deposits," Osbey continued. "What we want to do is put the meanders back in, and slow down some of the velocity. We want to restore the banks again by planting trees.
"You don't want your city, or county, to turn into New York City, where there is a building on every space in the county," Osbey added. "Knowing that you can come into a 27-acre greenspace, where no one can develop, it can only be a good thing."
According to Gossett, the total cost of the nature preserve and creek restoration project is approximately $2.4 million, which is being funded through Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). He said Lake City will partner with the Reynolds Nature Preserve in Morrow, to eventually designate the Lake City Nature Preserve as an official bird sanctuary.
Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt said that within the next three years, the city also plans to build a new community center and a new public works building using SPLOST dollars. He said the nature preserve will serve as "another star" for Lake City.
"This is not only good for Lake City, it's good for the county," said Oswalt. "You will see people come here just to eat lunch. It'll be an upgrade for a lot of people."