Thursday, October 1, 2020 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications
One-time farm land will soon see a new purpose for the residents on the south end of Whitfield County, once construction of a $13 million park off the South Bypass near Southeast Whitfield High School is completed over the next 18 months.
The new 55-acre facility, tentatively known as Riverbend Park, will include at least one soccer/football field, four baseball fields, a walking trail and two gyms inside a community center. The main entrance to the park will be near the traffic signal at the South Bypass and Hill Road, but a secondary exit to handle large crowds is planned off Collins Drive.
Whitfield County government and school leaders, along with members of the SPLOST Committee that supported the project, gathered Wednesday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony on the approximate location of the new community center. Crews will start clearing the land Monday and construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
The park will fulfill a long-time dream of many residents to have such a recreation facility on the south end of the county, leaders said.
“I am really excited about this park,” Commission Chairman Lynn Laughter told the crowd. “I think the south end has gotten the short end of the stick for a long time, and this is going to be a very special place for them. I’m sad I’m not going to be here to see the fruition of this come, but I’m really excited about it. I’m very proud I had a little part to play in this, and I want to thank the SPLOST Committee for doing an excellent job.”
The SPLOST Committee comprised of volunteer citizens studied proposals and submitted a recommended list of special purpose local option sales tax projects to the Whitfield County Commissioners and Dalton City Council. Voters approved the four-year SPLOST earlier this year, with the new park being one of the projects to be funded.
Bart Rich, a member of the SPLOST Committee, said the panel looked over several projects, trying to decide what offered the “most bang for the buck” before making the decision to support the new park.
“This is something that’s been 25 years in the making,” he said, “so this was kind of a no-brainer for a lot of people regardless if they’re from the south end or not. They felt like they deserved this facility here – the kids did, the community did, because that’s the one kind of place that was missing in this area.”
For Whitfield County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Chastain, the new park represents a great opportunity to build a strong working relationship with the county schools.
“We think this will be a great partnership with the school system, especially sharing the facilities with Southeast Whitfield,” Dir. Chastain said, pointing out that a sidewalk will be built all the way to the South Bypass for easier access to the park from the high school. “Hopefully the schools will get to use this park as much as we do.”
Cindy Dobbins, a member of the first graduating class at Southeast Whitfield in 1976 and currently the principal of Cedar Ridge Elementary School, was among a group of school officials, including principals from four other elementary schools, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
“I’m very excited about this park because we’ve not gotten anything on this end – all we have are our schools and our school facilities,” Ms. Dobbins said. “So it’s going to be very nice to have a place where people can come together and spend time with their children as a community. I think it’ll be a big pull for our south-end community.”
She pointed to previous efforts to build a sense of community through the formation of Raider Nation several years ago “to get all the feeder schools (into Southeast Whitfield) together so that we could build some school spirit. I think this park is just going to be another piece to pull us all together to be that one Whitfield we want to be.”
County commissioners Barry Robbins, who represents the southern district; Roger Crossen, former long-time county recreation director; and Harold Brooker, a veteran member of the board with service dating back to the early 1970s, seconded her notion - with Mr. Robbins saying the new park “will just be great for the migration of the kids through the program all the way to the high school,” Mr. Crossen calling it “an opportunity to make really a world-class soccer stadium so people will want to come here,” and Mr. Brooker dubbing it ‘the future of the south end of Whitfield County.”’
County Engineer Kent Benson, praised by Dir. Chastain for his work on pre-construction site planning for the park, pointed out the locations of the various parts of the facility. “Come back in about a month, and everything will be a whole lot more clear,” he said.