With a groundbreaking ceremony on a windy Wednesday afternoon, officials closed Amerson River Park for a year of upgrades.
About 40 people from local government, the Macon Water Authority, other agencies and groups involved in the project gathered at Porter Pavilion on a bluff overlooking the Ocmulgee River.
Plans for the park include a realigned entrance and stone gateway, redone roads, more paved parking, 7.5 miles of trails, permanent restrooms and a canoe take-out at Bowman Creek two miles downstream from the existing canoe put-in.
Its going to be a really nice feature for the whole community, said Mark Woods, from contractor Georgia Development Partners.
The work is expected to cost about $5.4 million, paid for with a $6 million federal earmark obtained in 2005 by then-U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall for improvements to the park and adjacent Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.
The park will be closed for general safety reasons and to speed construction, Mayor Robert Reichert said. But come March 2015, area residents should look forward to a spring and summer of better recreation, he said.
The exception to the yearlong park closing will be an environmental education program for 1,800 seventh-graders in Bibb County schools, said Frank Patterson of the Macon Water Authority. Their lessons on pollution, water quality and aquatic life will span February and March.
Reworking the park will have a historic impact on economic development and overall quality of life in the area, Patterson said.
At one end of the heritage trail is the Ocmulgee National Monument, with its evidence of thousands of years of Native American occupation. At the other is Amerson River Park, where a Native American village has been discovered and may soon be excavated, said Chris Sheridan of NewTown Macon.
What the trail is going to do is to connect those two points, he said. Linking the whole distance could be complete by 2018.
The push to make the area into a national park and preserve has been underway for 10 years, said Brian Adams, president of the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative. If successful, it would be the only one in Georgia -- and such recreation opportunities are among things that business prospects ask about, he said.
With a national park and preserve, its going to bring those bigger businesses here, Adams said.
Its fitting that the ceremony was held at Porter Pavilion, named for the late Ben Porter, and in a park named for the late water authority chairman Frank Amerson, said Reichert.
Porter was an early advocate of the heritage trail, and Reichert said his contribution enabled construction of the pavilion that bears his name.
The pavilion sits above the former water intake of the city waterworks, which closed after the 1994 flood. The park site was inundated then, leaving Macon without drinking water for three weeks. In the floods aftermath, the water treatment plant was moved to higher ground in Jones County, freeing the old location for development as a park, Reichert said.
No one was more instrumental in that than was Frank Amerson, he said.
Amersons widow, Mary, and son Carl joined Reichert and other officials in throwing ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt in the gravel parking lot next to the pavilion.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.