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IDA going forward on tracts parks
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Effingham County could be home to a major recreation complex, if the Effingham Industrial Development Authority’s plans come to fruition.

IDA members visited a Florida park to get ideas on what they may want to eventually build in the Research Forest Tract. While the majority of the sprawling 2,700 acres is being reserved for industrial and commercial development, there are plans for a sizable chunk of land to be used for recreation purposes.

IDA CEO John Henry and board members Charles Hinely and Rose Harvey paid a call on the Chain of Lakes Regional Park in Titusville, Fla.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Harvey said.

The IDA has looked at plans to dig ponds throughout the Research Forest Tract and use them as stormwater retention. The IDA is hoping to sell the dirt extracted from the ponds, in an effort to offset some of the costs associated with creating the ponds.

“We’re doing our due diligence on what’s the best use for that area,” IDA Chairman Chap Bennett said.

The Chain of Lakes Regional Park was developed over two to three years and was developed around a stormwater management plan.

“It was set up to capture stormwater from a large area, similar to what we will do at Research Forest,” Henry said.

Chain of Lakes Park has softball and soccer fields, pavilions and an amphitheater in conjunction with the Brevard County Community College campus in Titusville. There are walking trails and the lakes are 2 1/2 feet deep, and power boats are prohibited. Fishing in the lakes is on a catch and release basis. There also are walking trails and the park is host to several cross country and running meets.

There are also monitoring stations to test the quality of the water in the lakes, Henry said.

“The system is eco-sensitive,” he said.

Chain of Lakes Park is approximately 269 acres in size, but the Effingham IDA has much more land it’s able to turn into recreation. In preliminary plans for the tracts, the IDA has as much as 450 acres set aside for recreation.

“We have potentially more area than they have,” Henry said. “You can have wetlands interpretive areas. There are lots of things you can do. You can do a lot for the environment.”

Said Hinely: “We’ve got room for big lakes.”

The trip to Titusville reinforced to Hinely the need for recreation areas in the Research Forest Tract.

“I saw our vision in a miniature form. What we found out has already convinced me we need to go in this direction,” he said. “Effingham County doesn’t have anything like that. We can put in something the citizens can use. We need to consider this, even if we need to hire a project manager to start going after grants. There’s money to tap into for this.”

Hinely also sees the recreation areas as a possible revenue generator for the community. On the weekend of their visit, more than 2,000 runners were at the Chain of Lakes for a cross country meet.

The recreation areas also could help make the rest of the land at Research Forest more attractive to companies looking to build or relocate.

“That curb appeal cannot hurt,” Bennett said. “I see it as a help, an aid, for whatever else goes on that property.”

With the lakes and wetlands that will be set aside for recreation, there is also the opportunity for greenways, perhaps even tying the area into such existing areas as Ebenezer.

“These are very popular, especially in urbanized areas,” Henry said.

One feature Chain of Lakes has that the IDA won’t replicate is its observation towers used to watch space shuttle launches from nearby Cape Canaveral.

“That is not a run-of-the-mill deer stand,” Bennett quipped.

IDA members, along with representatives from the county, are expected to flesh out their ideas and take a look at other area parks.

“This is just the beginning of the brainstorming sessions,” Bennett said. “I think we’re headed down the right road. Our timeline on this is long. But our beginning is now.”