Parks and Recreation has been celebrated every year in July since 1985 in cities all across America.
According to Kirk Franz, recreation manager with the city, Johns Creek residents indeed have cause to celebrate the yearly milestone, with plentiful recreation opportunities and hundreds of acres of parkland and nature preserve.
Franz spoke recently about the city’s four main parks as well as the importance of parks and recreation as a government function.
“Parks and recreation may not be the first thing people think about, but it is one of the most important things a city can offer its residents,” Franz said. “It all goes back to the quality of life people look for when they have a home or want a place to raise their kids. We have a lot of people who want to be active and healthy and raise their kids to do so, as well, and we’ve got something for everybody – all the way from the little ones to those in later stages of life.”
At 52 acres, Newtown is one of the city’s more popular parks. It has several unique facilities, including the Mark Burkhalter Amphitheater, Park Place Senior Center, Newtown Dream Dog Park, a Community Garden, Community Clubhouse and the Veterans Memorial Walk — soon to be home of the formerly traveling Vietnam Memorial, the Wall that Heals.
Also available at the park are walking trails, baseball/softball fields, tennis courts, picnic pavilions, bocce courts and pickleball courts.
The city works with Newtown Recreation, which manages the youth recreation programs there, including soccer, flag football, lacrosse, t-ball, softball, tennis and adaptive recreation sports.
Franz said that as the city has grown, so have its recreational activities and programs. “Newtown Park is the park that can easily accommodate those,” Franz said. “People love that park, and it gets quite a bit of use.”
Autrey Mill Nature Preserve
Visiting this 46-acre park, Franz said, is like “stepping back in time. You don’t even realize you’re in Johns Creek anymore, because it looks a lot like the way things used to look.”
That’s because the city has moved many local, historic buildings and structures there, including historic farmstead buildings and exhibit pieces from the late 1800s, collected from various locations like Fulton, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties — complete with a general store, mill and historic church.
The Autrey Mill Nature Preserve Association operates the preserve and historic buildings there, providing environmental, heritage and event programming to the public.
Franz referred to Autrey Mill Nature Preserve as “our passive park. It’s a great, quiet place for meetings and picnics.”
The park also includes more than 2 miles of scenic walking trails winding past a creek, rocky shoals, wildflowers and a wide variety of plant and animal life.
Ocee Park is an active recreation park, with 37 acres that include many athletic and recreational options like walking trails, baseball/softball fields, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts and picnic pavilions.
Franz said the city “recently turfed the infield on several baseball fields, which helps with safety, play and allows us to play ball after it rains, so we have fewer canceled practices and games.”
Franz said the city works with the Ocee Park Athletic Foundation who help put on the youth baseball program there. The Ocee Park Athletic Foundation manages all recreational programs held there, including the sponsorship of youth baseball and softball for boys and girls ages 5 to 16 years old.
In addition to being home to the new and popular cricket batting cages, Franz said Shakerag can best be described as “a hybrid park” — offering both active and passive recreation opportunities for the residents of Johns Creek.
The 66-acre community park features a 1.1-mile nature trail that loops beneath 200-year-old hardwoods and past one of the city’s only working farms.
Franz said because the city has a joint-use agreement with the park’s neighboring River Trail Middle School, students get to use the track and baseball fields there during physical education classes, and the city is permitted to use some of the school’s baseball fields as well.
At Shakerag, there’s a 3.8-acre lake, three cricket batting cages, three large athletic fields, a playground and community room, as well as a brand-new outdoor ping pong table.