WARNER ROBINS -- If all goes as planned, by early spring residents could be enjoying a large park that has been on standby for 17 years.
At its next meeting, City Council is expected to approve $100,000 to develop Wellston Park, a 37-acre tract north of Watson Boulevard at Olympia Drive.
It will include a walking trail, restrooms and the city's first dog park.
Mayor Randy Toms proposed the funding at last week's precouncil meeting, and members were supportive. The funding will be up for a vote at the council's meeting March 7.
"I think everybody is in agreement that this project needs to move forward," Toms said.
Jim Taylor, vice chairman of Wellston Trees and Greens, said be believes the park could be open relatively soon. The nonprofit group has been pushing for development of the park and has organized volunteers to do much of the work.
"Basically all we are asking the city to do is buy the material," Taylor said as he showed the property last week. "We've got enough skilled volunteers that we can come in here and build it."
The land was donated to the city in 1999 by developer Charlie McGlamry and the children of Ed Bayer, who founded Warner Robins Building Supply. Bayer was Taylor's father-in-law.
Most of the land is in a flood plain and it can't be developed. It was donated with the intent of it becoming a park.
Taylor said that in 1999, there wasn't enough community interest to push the project forward, but that has changed.
He credited an off-hand comment by Police Chief Brett Evans with sparking current efforts to get the park done. A couple of years ago Taylor was trying to have his home annexed into the city, and while talking to Evans about that the chief brought up the Olympia Drive property.
Evans suggested that since Taylor was becoming an official Warner Robins resident, he should work toward trying to make the park finally happen. Taylor decided Evans had a good idea, and he enlisted other supporters to begin pushing for it.
The park was nearly lost when the city was looking for a site for a new animal shelter years ago. Taylor said the city chose the Wellston Park property for the shelter, but public outcry from those who wanted it to be a park put a stop to that idea.
McGlamry has already had a crew come in and clean out the undergrowth at no cost to the city, Taylor said. The next step is for a survey to be done, then silt fencing will have to be put in to prevent sediment runoff while the cleared land is smoothed out, then grassed over.
"Wellston" is the original name of Warner Robins before Robins Air Force Base came along and prompted the change.
But that's not the park's only nod to history. Warner Robins doesn't have many homes over a century old, but plans call for one to be moved to the park.
Gary Martin, the son of former Warner Robins Mayor Ed Martin, has donated a 2,000-square-foot house that was built in 1905. The home now sits next to Cherished Children day care near the corner of Elberta Road and Carl Vinson Parkway.
Taylor said the house will be moved to the park to serve as a meeting space. There is a space for the house that is not in the flood plain.
Most of the city's parks are geared toward recreational activities, he said, and Wellston Park will offer something different.
"We really don't have anything to offer people who don't play sports," Taylor said. "There's a lot of mental and health benefits with having passive parks."
Taylor had previously estimated that $153,000 would be needed from the city to complete the park, but he said the key features could be done for the $100,000 that Toms proposed. The original plan, for example, called for three sets of free-standing male and female restrooms throughout the park. Taylor said one set should be OK for now, and the city can always add more later if they're needed.
Wellston Park isn't the only passive park coming to the city in the near future. A park is now under construction at Walker's Pond, and it will also include a walking trail.
Toms has also said he thinks it's possible that two more dog parks could be coming to other locations in the city in the next two years.