A very bad thing that happened 21 years ago became a very good thing Saturday.
In 1994 the Macon Water Authority’s treatment plant along the Ocmulgee River flooded, prompting its eventual relocation to higher ground. That left 180 acres in a bend of the river to become a public park.
But until $5.5 million was spent on it in the past year, it was mostly a wilderness area. Hundreds of people came out Saturday to see the improvements unveiled to the public for the first time.
Now it has 3.5 miles of paved trails for walking, running, biking and roller blading. At the upper end of the park people can put boats or floating tubes into the river and enjoy a lazy ride around the bend to the outtake on the lower end. Many were taking advantage of free canoes being offered Saturday, and among those were Antoinette Williams and her daughter, Maddison. It was their first time on the river and they enjoyed the ride that took about 40 minutes.
“It was hard work, but it was fun,” Maddison said.
They didn’t know if it had inspired them to go buy a canoe, but they expected they would come back with some floats to do it again.
A river overlook that is probably the park’s star attraction remains unfinished. Workers were busy on it even as the crowd was enjoying the park Saturday. Until it and some other things around the park are finished, it will be limited to being open only on the weekends, said Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore. He expected that to last through June. Once it is all done, the park will be open seven days a week, and it will be staffed, which was not the case previously.
Loretta Brooks, of Macon, and her great niece, 9-year-old Kenziyah Ross, were watching rafters go down the river in the area of the overlook. It was Kenziyah’s first time seeing the river outside of riding over it in a car. It was the first time going to the park for both of them.
“I love it,” Brooks said. “It’s just a fun place to bring kids and relax and have a good time.”
In a ceremony heralding the opening, Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert tied the parks origins to the 1994 flood.
“What was terrible for us then has turned out to be something wonderful,” he said.
Justin Souma, president of the Middle Georgia Chapter of Trout Unlimited, was at the opening day of the park to spread awareness of the group’s fish conservation efforts. He said the park is a good way to help people become more familiar with the river.
“I think its a way of getting people to participate who haven’t gotten a change to try fishing in general,” he said. “It’s a great venue for people to come out and fish for a variety of different things.”
Chris Sheridan, who is on the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail executive committee and is overseeing the construction, said the park is a significant addition to life in Macon.
“I think this is a great project to demonstrate the unity of Macon,” he said. “You see every socio-economic classification represented here. It brings us together, and that’s what we need is to come together.”
Sheridan said he hopes within a couple of years to raise about $2 million needed to extend the trails to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, which in turn would basically connect it to Ocmulgee National Monument and create a 20-mile trail system. And he doesn’t think it has to even end there.
“I hope we are working on it forever,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.