DACULA - When Chuck Rinaldo moved to his Cammie Wages Road home 30 years ago, the road wasn't paved. But over the past decade or so, suburban sprawl has crept his way.
That's why Rinaldo was grateful Tuesday when Gwinnett County officials celebrated the construction of a nearly 2,000-acre passive park in his backyard.
"Hopefully this will stay naturally pristine," he said after a groundbreaking for Harbins Park on Luke Edwards Road in the Harbins community. "We can just sit and enjoy Mother Earth.
"At the rate we're growing, we won't see much of that anymore," Rinaldo said, adding that 3,500 new homes are being built in the southern Gwinnett area. "It's going to be pretty crowded."
Harbins Park, which is expected to open next spring, will be Gwinnett's largest by far. At 700 acres, the Grayson-area Tribble Mill Park was the largest in the county until a few years ago when officials opened Little Mulberry Park's 890 acres in the Hog Mountain area.
"It belongs to the people of Gwinnett County - 1,902 acres for a park, that is just amazing," said Lois Allen, a member of the county's Recreation Authority.
In the first phase, crews will build more than three miles of multi-purpose trails and several more miles of trails for horseback riding and mountain biking. The $3.8 million project also includes an open-space play area, playground, large rustic pavilion, restrooms and an equestrian-only parking area.
"I'm looking forward to exploring some of the trails out here. ... I grew up wandering woods that looked a lot like this," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. "This will be a refuge for Gwinnett County residents forever. It's a place for people to rest or to run."
In the future, the county has designated part of the land for active recreation, such as baseball or soccer fields, to serve as a feeder program for Archer High School, which will open nearby on New Hope Road next year. Funding for those fields is dependent on a renewal of the county's sales tax program in a referendum in November.