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Chimney Park enters next phase
Public invited to bird walk, cleanup event on Saturday

COVINGTON - Construction on Chimney Park, a playland designed with special-needs children in mind, could begin within a year if enough funds are donated, said the chairman of the group that is coordinating the project.

With the design phase of the project completed, engineering and construction drawings are now needed.

Friends of Newton Parks, a group of volunteers heading up the fundraising effort, is asking the community to help foot the bill, which is estimated to reach $350,000. The group is counting on individual and corporate donations, with the hope of obtaining grants in the future, Chairman Terry Smith said.

"The money we get will create our timeline for construction," he said.

Once the money is obtained, it will take 20 weeks to complete construction drawings, he said.

In hopes of generating interest in the project, Friends of Newton Parks is hosting a bird walk at the site, located just behind Newton County Library on Floyd Street, at 7:15 a.m. Saturday.

Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars for a better view of the birds that inhabit the area.

A light breakfast will be provided.

Following the bird walk, at 9 a.m., volunteers are asked to help clear the site of invasive plants and undergrowth. The cleanup is expected to last until noon.

The park will have three key elements, all meant to inspire creativity, learning and fun: the Secret Garden, Whispering Woods and Play Plaza.

The park will be designed to improve emotional and mental health rather than entirely focused on physical activity, Smith said.

The Secret Garden is the entryway to the park, its central feature being a granite foundation and 30-foot-high chimney, the ruins of the an old mansion owned by the Martin-Patterson family.

The garden is meant to be a place for visitors to sit and read, have story time, play games and observe and listen to nature

From the Secret Garden, a forested trail - through the Whispering Woods - will wind down a slope to an opening bordered by a ring of trees where large boulders create a small amphitheater for story-time sessions.

Down the slope, a ramp will lead children into a tree house for more resting, reading and story time sessions.

The county's multi-use trail will run through the woods and converge with secondary trails where interactive sculptures such as wind chimes and textured mosaics will be located, along with exercise stations for senior citizens.

The final section of the park will be the Play Plaza, which will include play equipment, a zero-depth water spray feature, a tree-lined plaza with seating walls and benches, and a miracle field, for softball games for children with special needs.

Eventually, the park will connect with the Newton County Trail system linking schools, the library and the downtown.

The total cost of the project is estimated between $3 million and $3.5 million, Smith said.

Friends of Newton will rely heavily on donations from the public for completion.

The group hopes to obtain nonprofit status within the next year, Smith said.

As of Friday, any gifts made payable to Friends of Newton Parks Inc. will qualify for a tax deduction upon the IRS granting the organization nonprofit status.

"We feel strongly about this project. The community and the people we've been able to share information with feel very good about the project. We look forward to getting to the point of building it and having it be a showcase and a gem for Newton County," Smith said.

Donations should be mailed to the attention of Cheryl Delk, special projects coordinator for Newton County, at 1124 Clark St., Covington, GA 30014.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.