Reconstruction of stream beds and trails in Heritage Park is on schedule, according to Oconee County Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry, and he expects the park to be reopened as planned in early December.
The trails have been closed since early August, when the county began a $1 million mitigation project in the park to offset stream bed destruction that will result from construction of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County.
While construction of the reservoir is on hold because of a lack of funds and lack of demand for the water the reservoir will produce, the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board has gone forward with land acquisition and mitigation work for the project.
The Heritage Park work is the final of three stream bed mitigation projects on county land to be completed to mitigate stream damage from the reservoir.
Already completed is the stream reconstruction at Veterans Park and at the county's sewage
treatment land application site on Rocky Branch Road. Those two projects combined cost another $1 million.
The work at Heritage Park includes not only reconstruction of streams but also of the trails for bicyclists, hikers and horses in the park.
On Friday, Gentry accompanied me on a tour of some of the construction work in Heritage Park.
The work is extensive, with heavy equipment having been brought in to open up the banks of streams and, in some cases, actually relocate them.
The modifications also include the creation of small falls to gradually change the elevation of the streams and the formation of pools to foster aquatic life.
Gentry and I started our walk at a trail head north of the school house at the entrance to the park on U.S. 441 and followed a stream to its intersection with another creek flowing into the park from near the old county landfill.
The park is located in the southern part of the county south of Farmington.
The slide show below follows the walk that Gentry and I took.
Major sections of the smaller stream we followed had been rebuilt, but a series of small falls before the intersection with the second creek were not disturbed.
The stream we followed and the one from near the landfill come together at a major intersection of trails in the park and form a stream that flows to the Apalachee River.
That intersection of the two streams is near what is marked as sheet 102 on this map I uploaded for an earlier report on the project.
We next walked up the stream leading back to near the old landfill. This video shows how a section of that stream was straightened.
Donnie Shelton, an environmental scientist with Register Nelson Environmental Consultants of Stockbridge, was on the site when Gentry and I visited the park on Friday. He explained that engineers use data from other streams with similar volume in similar terrain to model the ideal characteristics of the streams.
“Streams have a natural sine wave appearance,” he said. “That comes based on the amount of contributing water, the size and width of the stream.”
Shelton said that the restoration procedures used are well-established ones, drawing on the work of nationally known environmental scientist David Rosgen.
The mitigation project in Heritage Park calls for a total of 5,325 linear feet of stream restoration and 6,590 linear feet of stream preservation.
Shelton said engineers had picked the most appropriate parts of the creek for restoration.
Gentry told me that the final deadline for completion of the construction in the park is Dec. 6, but he is being told that the crews actually expect to be out of the park before Thanksgiving.
Two or three weeks later, he said, the park should be open.
By that time, Gentry said, the roadways created to get the heavy equipment to the construction sites will be covered with chipped wood and additional trees will be planted along the stream beds.
On a related matter, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight decided not to appoint a citizen to the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board to replace citizen appointee Hank Huckaby, who resigned.
Instead, the Board appointed Commissioner Chuck Horton to that slot. Horton currently is serving as an alternate management board member.
Commissioner Jim Luke argued that this was not to the time to add an outsider to the management board.
To see a slide show of the stream restoration at Veterans Park, scroll down the column at right.
Thanks to a reader who pointed out that I had used "sign wave" instead of "sine wave" in an earlier version of this posting. I should have known the difference.