Host of new trees planted at Tattnall Square Park

Volunteers use grants to create unique areas

jgaines@macon.comNovember 27, 2012 

About 160 new trees, representing 52 varieties, are going into the ground at Tattnall Square Park.

The last few will be placed during a public ceremony at 11 a.m. Wednesday, marking the results of a $32,950 Knight Neighborhood Challenge grant and a year’s work by the all-volunteer Friends of Tattnall Square Park.

“Our aim is really to make this park one of the prettiest parks in Georgia,” said Andrew Silver, chairman of the park group and a Mercer University professor.

He strolled around the park Tuesday with an umbrella, watching as Charlie and Chad McCaskill of Evergreen Lawn & Garden worked with their crew in a cold, steady drizzle to plant most of the trees.

The ceremony had been planned for Tuesday, but the weather changed that, said Jessica Walden, director of communications for the College Hill Alliance. Now it’ll be held Wednesday, with speeches from city and county officials and Mercer President William D. Underwood, a poetry reading, and children from nearby Alexander II Magnet School planting the last few trees. The weather at the time of the ceremony is supposed to be sunny and in the mid-50s.

“We are encouraging people to bring a picnic to the park, enjoy the new landscape and the new pavilion,” Walden said.

Friends of Tattnall Square Park’s work started a year ago by attacking the aging picnic pavilion, Silver said.

“‘Nicotine beige,’ my artist friends called it,” he said. They put in 800 hours renovating and painting it.

Another $15,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation paid for a new brick patio and stone “sitting wall” beside the pavilion, Silver said. The idea came from two of his students, and it was designed by Atlanta landscape architect Bill Murphy.

Mercer is providing $7,500 to irrigate the new trees, according to an announcement from Walden. Silver said Dale “Doc” Dougherty, former Parks & Recreation Department director for Macon who is now heading the corresponding Bibb County department, has been a tremendous help.

Friends of Tattnall Square Park has more than 200 members on its Facebook group, and through that they’ve swapped ideas about great parks worldwide, Silver said. There have been many plans over the years for improving the park, but most of those stalled or saw only bits accomplished, he said.

“There’s a long history of plans that come to Tattnall to die,” Silver said.

But now with community support, and grant funding that it would have taken volunteers a decade to raise, “once in a century” changes are coming, he said. Indeed, the last tree-planting on this scale at the park took place in a 1913-1918 renovation which determined much of the park’s current look, Silver said.

“It’s our turn now,” he said.

The trees aren’t being placed at random. There are shade trees for the bare central area, a “blossom ring” of flowering trees, a pawpaw patch and magnolia walk, with something expected to bloom almost every month, Silver said.

“This is going to have really distinct areas in the park that have their own personality for people to experience,” he said.

All of the current work is in compliance with existing master plans for the park, Walden said.

Heather Bowman-Cutway, associate professor of biology at Mercer, put together the list of trees, mostly native to this area, Silver said. He consulted several arboretums, but he said the biggest help was Macon State College arborist Derrick Catlett.

Once the trees are in, the group wants to have Tattnall Square Park declared an official arboretum, featuring significant trees collected for educational purposes, Silver said.

Two members are looking for a sculpture to put in the center of the park, and more lighting and other features may come in the future, he said.

The Knight Foundation also gave $25,000 for permanent trash bins, each of which will bear a quotation about nature, Silver said.

The volunteer group’s work runs parallel to other changes at the park. Its overall design details are being reconsidered as part of an AARP-sponsored project to make Tattnall Square Park and the surrounding area more welcoming to the elderly, as a template for accessibility improvements countywide.

And the College Street side of the park will get a full sidewalk, a seating wall, better parking and crosswalks from a $1 million state Transportation Enhancement grant awarded last year. Mercer University and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia are contributing $280,000 in matching funds for that grant.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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