Sheriff Donnie Craig has offered support in performing clean-up work to re-open two parks. Above, an unused ball field on Yellow Creek Road.
An old, abandoned ball field in east Pickens, which dates back at least to the 1980s, is a shadow of what it was while in operation.
The pitcher’s mound is still visible, but the playing field is overgrown with weeds. The scoreboard is rusted out and the announcer’s box looks flimsy and rotted from the outside. The field itself is located at the end of a narrow, overgrown pathway behind the Yellow Creek Volunteer Fire Station.
A sign on a tree says because it’s on Yellow Creek Baptist Church property alcohol and drugs are prohibited - but it’s clear no one has used the field in many years.
Way on the other side of the county, in the Hinton community, a massive tree that crashed on the playground behind Hinton Methodist Church several months ago remains there, rendering the playground unusable.
Pickens County Commissioner Becky Denney and Pickens Sheriff Donnie Craig have spearheaded an effort to rejuvenate these two parks so kids on the far east and west ends of the county have somewhere to play that’s close to home. After hearing Denney was in conversation with church leaders about the ball field, Craig approached the Sheriff’s Foundation board - which distributes money raised by JeepFest to projects, non-profits and organizations that benefit children - about providing funding and partnering with commissioners to move the projects forward.
“We’d love to look at some plans and see if through the sheriff’s office and the Sheriff’s Foundation we can work to help bring those to fruition,” Craig said at the Monday, Aug. 1 Pickens County Board of Commissioners’ work session. “It’s not something we want to fund 100 percent of, but I think we can find the funding and volunteers to help.”
Most of Pickens’ public parks are centrally located in the Jasper area. There is also one public park in Talking Rock and one in Nelson.
Speaking at the meeting, Pickens County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Jones said the ball field is in disrepair and will need a massive overhaul before it can be used.
“We went out and looked at it first of June and it’s going to be lots of work,” Jones said. “It probably needs to be torn down and started from scratch. Not only is the field surface needing work, its also the fencing, the press box, trees need to be cut down to make a parking area; it needs a complete gut job. When I was a kid and played out there with my cousins it hasn’t changed any, and that was in the 80s.”
Denney said she has been in touch with Yellow Creek Baptist Church leadership who have agreed to lease the property to the county for $1 a year as long as the field was not used on Sunday before 2 p.m. so as not to “keep anyone from going to church.”
The problem is that the ball field takes up the lions’ share of the 3.02-acre plot, and Jones said when the necessary parking is added, extras like a playground, which the sheriff suggested, might not fit on the property.
“It has potential but it’s going to cost maybe $50,000 for fencing, laser grading the field for proper drainage – it’s going to be a significant investment,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend doing it halfway. If we’re going to do it, it needs to be done right.”
Craig asked the commissioners to entertain the idea of putting a plan together, and said his department would supply maintenance and upkeep at both parks through the work detail program.
“As far as the finances we just have to look and see what kind of money is involved,” Craig said. “I’m not familiar with building a ball field but I think it’s something the folks in that area would really enjoy using.”
The rec. director said he could rent the field out five days a week to travel teams, but the sheriff said his top priority are kids.
“My big thing is to have somewhere where those children on the east end of the county have to go play,” he said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to renting the fields on occasion but I wouldn’t want to keep it rented so you get a kid that lives a mile down the street can’t go play ball.”
Craig said he has access to bleachers and fencing through partnerships his office has developed over the years, and also has a few businesses that are willing to get involved and help.
Commission Chair Rob Jones called for a survey of the property before they get “everyone excited.”
“We need to see how much property we’ve got down there,” he said. “We have to work with the church to see if they won’t mind. I’d like to know where the ball field is going to go. I’d like to know if we could have a parking area, or if we can do a playground.”
Jones said the county would take on the expense of the survey.
In regards to the playground in the west end of the county, Commissioner Jerry Barnes said there are issues with the current survey and that it’s unclear who owns the property at this time.
He also recommended the playground be relocated because of another large tree there that could fall in the future. Barnes and Jones said their hands are tied when it comes to cutting it down.
“Georgia Power won’t let county or city government get within 50 feet of a power line, I don’t care if a tree is falling or not,” Jones said. “So, we’ve been trying to get them to cut the trees since they won’t let anyone else in there, but now it fell and tore the playground to pieces.”
The parks director suggested the county-owned playground equipment at the west end park could be relocated to the old Boys & Girls Club facility in Ludville if it’s not being used.
Sheriff Craig said the general area of the current park is, to him, a great location.
“I think we had a lot of people who used that park,” he said.
Craig offered to clean up the playground with the sheriff’s office work force if the county would agree.