Living

After Hours: Bringing joy out of desolation

Amerson River Park was formally dedicated on May 30 as a memorial to the late Frank Amerson and in honor of all of the individuals, organizations and government entities that have worked diligently to make this event possible.

Macon Mayor Robert Reich­ert welcomed the crowd gathered on the Great Lawn and gave a brief history of the plans for the park, thanking Macon’s own former state Rep. Jim Marshall, who could not attend the event, for his efforts to facilitate the plans during his tenure.

Although roads were not paved initially, and there was much to be completed, the park opened to the public several years ago.

Many of the guests attending the official opening had no idea of the genesis of the park until Carl Amerson, son of the man for whom the park is named, recalled a conversation with his father after the great Flood of ‘94, which destroyed the old water production plant on the site.

According to his son, Amerson said then that something good should come out of the destruction of the plant and the devastation caused by the flood waters. His father, chairman of the Macon Water Authority, convinced the authority to grant a conservation easement to the Ocmulgee Land Trust and 182 acres were deeded to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority as a green space, which would one day be accessible to the public.

With the initiative led by NewTown Macon, a civic revitalization organization, plans were in motion to make the park a major destination on the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

Located in a sharp bend in the river, the park has become what Amerson envisioned and more. The covered overlook stands on the same spot where the old water treatment plant was washed away, leaving an abandoned and barren scar on the banks of the river.

The fascination of the river brings visitors to the edge of the cliffs to picnic and play, and now to access the river for canoeing, kayaking, rafting and tubing. A well appointed playground is across the paved path from a covered pavilion near the game area, which is large enough for a touch football game.

Watching the festivities on a perfect day for celebration were other Amerson family members including the senior Amerson’s widow, Mary, his sister Mary Burt and daughter-in-law Janice Amerson, all of whom knew how much Frank Amerson would have relished seeing his vision become a reality.

THE FIRST OCMULGEE RIVERKEEPER

Jay Hall loved rivers and would take off on a moment’s notice to join friends who shared his passion for the waters he worked so hard to protect throughout his life. He was an active member of the Central Georgia River Runners and an activist in promoting safe launching sites on the Ocmulgee River for non-motorized watercraft.

A Georgia Tech graduate who never joined the corporate world, he instead put his skills to work with the curiosity of a child, tinkering with anything that had a motor.

Rivers were different for Hall, who eschewed the noisiness of boat motors for the calm of a lazy river or the sound of the exhilarating rush of the rapids. Raised in Macon by one of Macon’s best loved physicians, the late John I. Hall and his wife, Jessie, the only son lost his life doing the very thing he loved most -- meeting friends in north Georgia for a river trip.

After his death, his friends in the CGRR wanted to honor Hall’s endeavors with a suitable memorial to their most avid river keeper. According to his sisters, Bruce Hall and March Hall, the money from numerous fundraisers was donated, with their blessings, to the City of Macon to help fund an access site on the Ocmulgee River at Amerson Park for non-motorized boats.

At the dedication ceremony May 30, John Hiscox, former executive director of the Macon Housing Authority, formally dedicated the Jay Hall River Access to his friend, and recounted the many trips he felt were enhanced by Hall’s inexhaustible efforts to preserve public water ways.

Hiscox said he always considered himself Hall’s best friend, but had to be reminded occasionally that Hall had legions of friends, all of whom considered themselves “Jay’s best friend.” Hiscox’s wit brought some levity to what could have been a somber occasion for his mother, sisters, cousins and friends, all laughing and sharing their favorite “Jay story.”

The Hall family has figured prominently in the history of Macon for generations, leaving indelible impressions in industry, medicine and law. Now another Hall joins Frank Amerson in the annals of history for future generations that embrace the natural beauty of a river that was ignored and taken for granted for too long.

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or kwaldenint@aol.com.

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