“It looks like a Norman Rockwell moving picture,” Tumlin said of the 10.6-acre park on Chestnut Hill Road off Powder Springs Street that has been renovated at a cost of $1.7 million.
“I think this is going to be an amazing attraction, and the way the (playground is designed) with the fence around it, you can watch your children without being on top of them; the grass, the pavilions, tennis courts, the excitement of the children — the city finally did something right.”
Rather than the usual ribbon-cutting performed by elected officials, Councilman Johnny Sinclair, who chairs the city’s Parks Committee, thought it would be a better idea to have it done by children.
Ella Schnatmeier, a third-grader at West Side Elementary, welcomed the audience at the edge of the playground, microphone in hand.
“We are very happy that everyone is here to help celebrate the grand opening of this park, and I know we have all waited a long time for this day to come,” the young lady said.
She was followed by Michael Helenek, a second-grader at Burruss Elementary, who thanked the citizens “who gave 25 million dollars to spend on parks in our city.”
Donovan Wilson, a fifth-grader at Sawyer Road Elementary, described the park’s new features, and Robbie Schnatmeier, a fourth-grader at West Side Elementary, delivered the closing, saying, “On behalf of Mayor Tumlin and the City Council, and for the enjoyment of the people of Marietta, I hereby declare Hickory Hills Park officially open.”
Following the ribbon-cutting, hordes of children descended on the playground equipment with big smiles on their faces.
“What can be more rewarding than having a bunch of happy children?” Sinclair said. “And we’ve got a lot of happy children.”
Bruce Hamilton, who serves as co-president of the Hickory Hills Homeowners Association with his wife, former Councilwoman Holly Walquist, said they supported the 2009 $25 million parks bond that paid for the renovation to help Marietta remain competitive in drawing in new residents and businesses in the post-recession era.
“For example, a house on my street was recently renovated and sold for nearly three times its original worth,” Hamilton said. “It’s safe to say that renovated Henry Park played a small but important role in that success. Parks like Henry and now Hickory Hills will have a huge impact on our neighborhood’s curb appeal.”
Hamilton said visitors tend to view parks as an indication of community pride.
“Based on what we see here today, Hickory Hills shows a whole lot of pride,” he said. “Considering how it was renovated during some pretty dark economic times, this park also represents our optimism. For years to come, whenever we visit Hickory Hills Park, we will think about how it opened just when things started to turn around. May this park always stand as a reminder of how we weathered the bad times by planning for a better tomorrow.”
The property that is now the park was given to Marietta City Schools by the Marietta Housing Authority in 1957, two years before Hickory Hills Elementary School opened nearby as a first- through seventh-grade school. Tumlin said he attended seventh grade there in 1959.
The mayor said Bill Smith with Little and Smith insurance agency, then-chairman of the Marietta Board of Education, and Paul Fields, a long time City Councilman, obtained a couple of bulldozers, “and the school board said ‘if you can make a couple soccer fields and baseball fields, go for it,’” Tumlin said. “I’d say that was in the ’60s or at the latest, early ’70s. Both of them had boys who wanted to play soccer and baseball, and they just basically did it.”
Tumlin said his own children learned to ride their bikes at the park, and now his grandchildren get to enjoy it.
“When I was looking out, I saw people that were here 35 years ago,” Tumlin said of the crowd.
In 2006, the Marietta Board of Education swapped the park with the city in exchange for a $450,000 payment and the city’s old fire station on Polk and Winn streets. The school system renovated the firehouse as the headquarters of the school district’s foundation.
A 2009 effort spearheaded by a group of Marietta citizens, including retired businessman Steve Imler, led to the passage of the parks bond to renovate all of the city’s parks.
Imler was among those in attendance.
“It is an eye-opening and marvelous thing,” Imler said of the renovation.
“You see all these children and the families and walking the dogs and all kinds of different people. It’s a wonderful place, and it makes me feel like I’m so glad that the parks bond committee people led the charge on this.”
Before the renovation, the park was simply two grassy fields with a walking track and aging parking lot. Now it is encircled by a 10-foot-wide walking trail of about a half mile and has a large children’s playground area complete with slides, swing sets and climbing structures with age-appropriate areas for children 2 to 5 and 5 to 12.
There are two full-size tennis courts, a restroom building and an elevated area with swings that overlooks the park. Three picnic shelters have been installed. One has room for eight picnic tables and is available for reservation. Two smaller shelters house four tables each and can be secured on a “first come” basis. The park also has two youth-sized soccer fields for ages 10 and younger.
There is about an acre-sized grassy space available for games like tag. And the aging parking lot was replaced by 137 new parking spaces.
“Smyrna don’t have anything on Marietta,” said Councilman Anthony Coleman, who gave the invocation during the event. “Marietta is building Class A parks throughout the city, and building that state of the art recreation complex (the Elizabeth Porter Recreation Center) is our next job to tackle.”