Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitors Center

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners reviewed park upgrades for Sawnee Mountain Preserve and Bennett Park at its March 23 work session. The county previously reviewed renovations to the Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitor Center, but redrafted the blueprint following parking concerns. 

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Major upgrades are slated for the county’s oldest park and its largest. The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners reviewed master plans and approved redevelopment of Bennett Park and sections of the Sawnee Mountain Preserve at its March 23 work session.

Bennett Park, a 36-acre site off Burrus Mill Road created in 1978, is the county’s first and oldest park, according to Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor. Now in its fourth decade of operation, the site has become outdated with septic and access problems, issues that spurred creation of a renovation plan.

The master plan calls for a bevy of upgrades, including new ballfields, pavilions, restroom areas, a trails system and a large community building.

The number of baseball/softball fields would be cut from five to three, but the new spaces will be larger at 300-feet from home plate to center field. Pryor said there are means to shrink dimensions for age groups needing smaller fields, and T-ball can be played on a multi-use field at the park. New ballfields are also on tap for nearby Lanierland Park for additional playing spaces, Pryor said.

The Bennett Park plan also calls for an additional multi-use rectangular field with artificial turf, two basketball courts, new batting cages, five picnic pavilions, new bleachers and a central playground area.

About 1-mile of 10-foot-wide concrete paths will be built, along with a half-mile natural trail on the greenspace located on the southeast portion of the park.

A 4,200-square-foot community building is also shown on the site plan that can be configured in various ways with chairs and tables. A representative with the county’s consultant developing said the building was designed in conjunction with election officials and can serve as a voting location.  

Commissioners also reviewed a revised master plan proposal for renovations at two portions of the 821-acre Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

In November, Pryor presented the first draft of proposed upgrades to the Barker Overlook, which formerly housed the flying-saucer shaped “Barker House,” and the Sawnee Mountain Visitor Center area.

At that meeting, Commissioner Molly Cooper objected to the draft’s lack of handicapped access at the Barker Overlook. The updated plan addressed those access concerns.

Pryor said new sidewalks and ramps will allow access to the entire site.

“It might take a little longer and require a less direct path, but it does meet [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards,” he said.

The blueprint for the improvements includes new trails, a restroom building and a plaza on the summit of the overlook.

Parking at the Visitor Center along Spot Road was another issue that required adjustments from the November draft.

The earlier proposal showed a new multi-use field and 34 new parking spaces on 2.6 acres of land previously purchased by the county for $170,000.

Some board members said they felt using most the acquired land for a field when parking at the area is limited was not a positive return on investment.

Pryor said the updated draft retains the field, but a driveway to the new field is now proposed under the master plan that would allow it to serve as an overflow parking area when warranted. The move also prevents possible stormwater runoff issues from creating traditional parking spaces, Pryor said. 

The board backed the updates and approved the redrafted site plan. Other updates slated for the Visitor Center include a new pavilion, improvements to the grounds and a storage building.

Both proposals will go before the board for final approval at an upcoming Board of Commissioners meeting.

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