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Andalusia, Oconee River trailhead and King site to receive state money

SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAPH; 
 This photo is an example of the planned memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. at First African Baptist Church in Dublin.
SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAPH; This photo is an example of the planned memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. at First African Baptist Church in Dublin.

A new monument, improvements to a museum and more bike trails will soon be built in the midstate after several local entities recently received thousands of dollars from the Georgia Department of Economic Development to support tourism and cultural development.

The city of Dublin, The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation and the Oconee River Greenway Authority were among 11 groups across the state to receive a portion of the $130,000 in awards, according to a news release.

The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation received $15,000 to build phase two of a project at Andalusia Farm.

The 500-acre farm, about four miles north of Milledgeville, was home to the iconic Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, who lived and wrote there from 1951 until she died in 1964 from lupus, said Elizabeth Wylie, the foundation’s executive director.

FACILITIES FOR THE HANDICAPPED

“For the first time ever, we’ll have handicapped accessible program space and restroom facilities,” Wylie said. “That’s really exciting for a historic site that was the home of a woman who was handicapped. ... When (O’Connor) was 30 she started using crutches because the steroids to treat the lupus degraded her hips, so she couldn’t really navigate very well and had trouble getting into her own house.”

The money also will be used to quadruple its capacity for sheltered space, deck the dirt floor of the equipment shed and expand restroom facilities, Wylie said. There’s only one toilet on site now.

“We hope it increases visitation,” Wylie said of the improvements. “Everything we do is trying to make this place welcoming and accessible and some place people want to return to. Repeat visitations are the lifeblood of every museum.”

The south side of Milledgeville also will benefit from the grants. The Oconee River Greenway Authority was awarded $15,000 to create a new trailhead facility at the Selma Erwin Nature Preserve.

“There’s hiking and mountain biking trails currently at this nature preserve, but they’re kind of a hidden gem right now because there’s not a lot of signage for them,” said Colin Moore, former president of The Oconee River Greenway Authority who helped apply for the grant. “(The trails) are pretty technical. So, with some additional money, this grant is going to go towards putting in some beginning mountain bike trails at the nature preserve.”

A parking lot, signs, a changing facility and a kiosk displaying a trail map are a few more projects to be completed, Moore said. The Oconee River Greenway Authority will match the grant with $20,000 in special purpose local option sales tax money with an additional $15,000 in in-kind volunteer labor from the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville and Oconee Outfitters bike shop.

The city of Dublin will use the $15,000 it received to build the first phase of a memorial plaza that will mark the church where 15-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first public speech. A junior at Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School, King delivered the speech on April 17, 1944, for a statewide competition at Dublin’s First African Baptist Church.

The theme of the contest was “The Negro and the Constitution,” and King’s speech highlighted the contradictions between the America’s biblical faith and constitutional values with the continuing problem of racial discrimination, according to Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

CONSTRUCTION ON PHASE ONE WILL BEGIN IN OCTOBER

Construction on the first phase of the monument will begin in mid-October and last until February, said Rebecca McWilliam, director of tourism for Visit Dublin GA, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

Capturing King’s legacy and inspiring future generations is “the ultimate goal for this project,” McWilliam said. “Because the church sits kind of on that boundary between downtown Dublin and lower income neighborhoods, we wanted it to kind of serve as the gateway to downtown. (It will be) a place where people can gather and remember what Dr. King stood for and (think about) how they can kind of carry his legacy into their own lives.”

When all three phases are completed, the monument will feature a seating wall, flag poles with lights, a memorial plaza and a monument with lighting.

To learn more about the monument or donate to its construction, visit www.firstafricanbaptistdublinga.com.

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.

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