Elizabeth Werdesheim lives within walking distance of Blackburn Park, but she doesn’t go there often.
“I don’t take my children [to the playground] there because it’s not safe,” she said. “It’s not clean.”
When she takes her young children to a park for time on the swings or slides, Werdesheim heads down the road to Ashford Park, or over to Keswick Park in Chamblee, or even to Morgan Falls Overlook Park in Sandy Springs.
The conditions at Blackburn Park were a big reason she got involved this year with Brookhaven Yes and its efforts to establish Brookhaven as a separate city. Cities around Brookhaven seemed to be doing more to expand and take care of their parks than DeKalb County was doing with its parks.
Now that the new city of Brookhaven has been approved by residents, Werdesheim is co-chair of a task force the pro-city organization created to study what the new city should do about its parks. The task force has drawn about 70 volunteers, she said.
This summer, the task force surveyed the 11 parks the city stands to take over from the county. Now it plans to “audit” the condition of the parks for a report to be presented to the new five-member commission Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to prepare for the start of the city, Werdesheim and task force co-chairman Tom Reilly said. “The job of the task force is to be boots on the ground for the governor’s commission,” Werdesheim said.
Parks played a significant part in the debate over whether residents should create the city prior to the July 31 vote approving the new government’s charter. Parks — along with police, public works, basic administration, zoning and code enforcement — are among the jobs city officials are expected to take over from DeKalb County in the two years after the city opens for business Dec. 17.
The county owns 11 parks in Brookhaven, ranging from the massive, 135-acre Murphey Candler Park with its baseball programs, lake and nature trails, to the .2-acre Clacks Corner, which was developed by its neighbors on a corner lot in the middle of a subdivision, according to the county and the task force.
“The city is probably not going to buy all the parks on Day One,” Werdesheim said, “but I would expect it would be one of the services that come online sooner rather than later.”
In its analysis of the revenues and expenses for a city of Brookhaven, the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia reported that DeKalb spent $480,140 a year on parks in Brookhaven.
The institute, which listed the eight largest parks in the study area (It overlooked the 7-acre Fernwood Park, the 2-acre Parkside Park and Clack’s Corner.), suggested that based on the amount spent per acre by Roswell on its parks, Brookhaven could spend nearly $1.4 million a year on parks — or nearly $900,000 more than the county.
Werdesheim said community organizations have sprung up to support the parks — generally called “friends” groups because they are organized as “Friends of Brookhaven Park,” for instance — and they are likely to raise some of the money needed for their neighborhood parks. Reilly says Brookhaven parks promoters also hope to draw support from Park Pride, an Atlanta group that helps neighborhood groups get involved in parks in their communities.
And, in Brookhaven, there’s much to do in the parks.
At Briarwood Park, for instance, Friends of Briarwood Park president Chad Boles said the group’s list of needed repairs could include a new basketball floor, bleachers, renovations to the pool house and pool, new tennis courts, new lighting, new landscaping, additions to the nature trail, a community garden and new playground equipment. And the list still is growing, he said.
At Lynwood Park, top priorities include playground equipment, improvements to the community center, pool repairs, sidewalk repairs and adding a community garden. Lynwood Park users also want to fix the bathrooms and locker rooms. “Most people won’t even go into them,” said Jaime Gordon, president of the Friends of Lynwood Park.
The fix-it list for other parks is just as long. At Blackburn Park, Linley Jones, a Brookhaven Yes member and neighborhood affairs chairwoman for the nearby Cambridge Park Civic Association, says the park needs better playground equipment, improved access, better maintenance and upgrades to ball fields. “Blackburn Park is in very bad condition,” she said.
What do parks advocates expect the city will do?
“It’s too early to tell,” said Mike Elliot, who heads the Friends of Brookhaven Park. “Until they get established, I don’t really have any expectations, but better maintenance, that’s a minimum.”
Members of the task force say they intend for parks to be a central part of the discussion as the new city comes together.
“Things are moving,” Reilly said. “It’s just a matter of us keeping it moving correctly, so to speak. … Our problem is that 11 parks have been neglected for many years.”