Bill Hodges recalled to a crowd of more than 100 Monday night at Amerson Water Works Park how Ben Porter told designers of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail at every meeting that he wanted the people of Macon to be able “to touch the river.”
With the dedication of the new Ben Porter Pavilion at the park, there’s another place for area residents to do just that.
Several friends and local officials all addressed the crowd at the opening ceremony, all with the same theme — there wouldn’t be a trail without Porter’s vision.
“It’s fair to say Ben’s vision inspired the trail, his leadership helped build the trail and his financial contribution helped build this pavilion,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said. “We’re indebted to Ben Porter.”
“(Porter) has done so much,” said Rick Maier, a board member of Friends of the Trail. “He’s been one to the top guys, always behind the scenes.”
The idea for the trail came in the early 1990s when Porter, then a board member of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, came up with the idea along with Juanita Jordan of the Peyton Anderson Foundation and Brenda Burnette of the Trust for Public Land.
“Macon was born on the river but for the last hundred years ignored the river,” Porter told the crowd. “This was an opportunity to get people back to the river.”
Today, the trail is about 10 miles long, and future plans call for the trail to cover 22 miles — far more than Porter ever thought possible, he said.
“This is far beyond anything I imagined,” Porter said. “I’m extremely pleased. This is the best family thing I’ve ever seen in Macon.”
The pavilion is available to be rented for public or private parties, said Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, which oversees the trail. Porter gave the funds that helped build the pavilion over one of the most scenic spots on the river, as well as the parking lot and landscaping to go with it, Ford said.
“We built it with all his money,” Ford said. “It really is a pretty, scenic spot.”
Porter was presented with proclamations from both the city of Macon and Bibb County, as well as a proclamation from Gov. Sonny Perdue. In addition, trail builder Chris Sheridan told the crowd that friends of Porter had gotten together and raised more than $75,000 to be used for the trail.
Kirby Godsey, former president of Mercer University and Monday’s master of ceremonies, summed up Porter’s contribution when he said the trail embodies the spirit of its creator “in that it brings the community closer together.”