Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gianna Wallop, 7, of Buford giggles while spinning vigorously on a twirling ride at the playground of Rock Springs Park in Lawrenceville on Monday evening. The Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation system reaches its 25th anniversary.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of parks 46
Total park land acreage 9,282
Number of Recreation/Community Centers 12
Number of Senior Recreation Centers/designated area 2
Number of Tennis Courts 51
Number of Outdoor Basketball/Multi-use courts 31
Number of miles of bike/walking/hiking trails 102
Number of Competition and Leisure/Play Pools 17
Number of Skate Parks 7
Number of Cultural/Historic sites 6
Number of Playgrounds 61
Number of Dog Park Areas 6
Number of Special-Needs Multi-use Sport fields 6
General attendance at county pools 575,000
Enrollment participation of children in YAA programs 47,770
Number of Youth Athletic Associations (YAA) 28
LILBURN -- When Mike and Peggy Levengood moved to Gwinnett County more than two decades ago, they heard stories about the beginnings of the neighborhood park, where people would pitch in to put up lights and cut the grass so kids could enjoy America's pastime.
Bringing up three boys, they continued the tradition, spending hours as the dugout mom, coach or volunteer.
And even now, years after the kids left rec league sports, the Levengoods are glad to see the Gwinnett County Parks tradition of volunteerism and community spirit continue, as the government celebrates the 25th anniversary of the countywide park system.
"We had an awful lot of boys and girls who started playing ball there," Mike Levengood said of Mountain Park Park.
"It has a good group of people (still)," Peggy added. "I think Mountain Park is as healthy as it has ever been."
The western Gwinnett park is one of Gwinnett's oldest, formed in the 1970s when local voters approved a series of "militia districts," allowing taxes to be levied for parks.
The system started small, with only about a quarter of the county's landmass covered by a parks district before a vote was approved to levy the tax countywide, beginning in 1987.
In the 25 years, though, the system expanded quickly, with voter-approved sales taxes allowing the county to purchase land bringing the park acreage to nearly 10,000.
Some years, grand openings were held on opposite corners of Gwinnett, as the system grew to its current 46 parks, boasting 17 pools, 51 tennis courts, 61 playgrounds and more than 100 miles of bike, walking and hiking trails.
Through 28 Youth Athletic Associations, the system serves nearly 50,000 kids each year.
"I have spent much quality time in our parks involved in activities from playing on playgrounds to picnicking to swimming to youth sports programs to senior activities to being on top of the Environmental and Heritage Center building and I am joyful when I think of the thousands of people all over the world whose lives also have been enriched because they have spent time in Gwinnett Parks," said Lois Allen, a longtime volunteer and former member of the Recreation Authority.
In recent years, the growth of the system has slowed, along with the slowing of the economy. But leaders are shifting the focus to maintaining the acreage, making improvements in older facilities and making sure the programs thrive.
"Maintenance of our park system is a challenge in our present economy and for the future," Allen said. "I am grateful for the commitment of the GCPR staff and for volunteers for their continued stewardship of our land and their development and maintenance of quality programs as they work to meet this challenge."
The Levengoods began the Gwinnett Parks Foundation about a decade ago to help continue the sense of ownership that they sensed when their kids first began playing at Mountain Park Park so many years ago. To find out how to help, go to www.gwinnettparksfoundation.org.
"Our park system belongs to the citizens of Gwinnett County," Allen said. "All of us must do what we can to help keep our parks clean, protected, and safe so that our parks and the opportunities and programs in them will be maintained."