athens risingNews

A Sorely Needed Intown Park

In 2009 a group of Boulevard residents surveyed their neighbors to see if anyone was interested in a neighborhood park. It turns out they were, and so plans for Boulevard Woods began to take shape. 

The Boulevard Neighborhood Association is now spearheading the project located at the east end of Boulevard where it meets Barber Street. The heavily wooded 1.8 acre location was donated to the City of Athens by W.H. Benson in 1967 and is now owned by Athens-Clarke County.  It is easily accessible to Boulevard and Newtown residents and, according to the Boulevard Woods website, has the “potential to be integrated into a future greenway network and/or rails-to-trails project.” 

In 2010, with the help of the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design, several conceptual plans were created, voted on by Boulevard residents and adopted by Athens-Clarke County. Plans were refined further earlier this year. The conceptual plan was then turned into a master plan by Koons Environmental Design, Inc. The master plan still has to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission (perhaps at the November meeting), but so far Boulevard Woods is on its way to becoming a community park.  

Since 2010, volunteers have been gathering several times a year to clear the site of debris and brush, trim vines, pull weeds and get rid of invasive species. Not only have volunteers done manual labor to get Boulevard Woods up and going, they have also created and maintained the website, Thanks to the efforts of those volunteers and Boulevard Neighborhood Association, the Boulevard Woods project received a $75,000 grant from the Riverview Foundation, a nonprofit based in Chattanooga, TN.  

The $75,000 grant will fund the construction of the park, but additional money will be needed to take down a few dying trees and cover the cost of a crosswalk. The county approved a crosswalk across Barber Street for pedestrian safety, but the Boulevard Neighborhood Association has to foot the bill for the crosswalk. Dan Lorentz, one of the organizers of the Boulevard Woods project, estimates that the project needs to raise several thousand more dollars in addition to the Riverview Foundation grant to complete the project.  

It is rumored that the parcel was donated to the city in order to be used as a park for the Boulevard community, and though no tangible evidence has surfaced validating the rumor, like all good rumors, it persists. While the Boulevard Neighborhood Association is spearheading the project, the parcel of land is still owned by ACC. However, the BNA will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep in the future.  

Athens certainly has its fair share of parks, but they tend to be located on the periphery of the city. While large parks are great for outdoor sports and large events, more intimate neighborhood parks provide refuge for people. There’s Reese and Pope Park, grassy areas off King Avenue and Bloomfield Street and, of course, quads on campus, to name a few, but Boulevard Woods is a pilot project that can show other neighborhoods how to establish a community park. 

Athens has a rather high urban density. Our historic neighborhoods boast fairly small lots and are quite walkable. We also have more density moving into our downtown core, but let’s not forget that urban density needs to be balanced with urban greenspace. Boulevard Woods could very well serve as an excellent example of what can be done with some of the unused urban space around Athens.  

Sigma Chi: The Historic Preservation Commission approved several changes to the building that presently houses Flagpole‘s office and the apparent future home of the Sigma Chi fraternity. The courtyard between the historic F.M. Coker (Flagpole) and S&K bike shop buildings will be getting a facelift: a tripartite arched wall nearly a story tall will link the two buildings. Though not an identical match to the original wall that linked the buildings, it will give the corner a more nearly seamless appearance. All front-facing doors will be have awnings for weather protection (however, the windows will not) and the bike shop building will get a skylight. Since that smaller building will be used primarily as a dining hall, Atlanta architect Jim Wilson said he wants to bring in as much natural light as he can. 

They’ve still details to work out with the plans, but Sigma Chi looks to be well on its way to owning its own house again. The Athens-Clarke County Commission still has to sign off, which it appears likely to do at its Nov. 5 meeting.