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Residents seek to revitalize Shady Grove neighborhood

Resident DeSandra Sawyer stands on the basketball court of the Shady Grove Park at Olde Covington Road and Buchannan Circle. She and other residents organized a community committee to lobby the county to install guard rails or fencing around the park that is close to a busy street. Staff Photo: Jay Jones.

Resident DeSandra Sawyer stands on the basketball court of the Shady Grove Park at Olde Covington Road and Buchannan Circle. She and other residents organized a community committee to lobby the county to install guard rails or fencing around the park that is close to a busy street. Staff Photo: Jay Jones.

CONYERS -- A group of residents in the Shady Grove neighborhood is looking for ways to keep together a community that few know about.

The modest homes and narrow streets of Shady Grove are situated along Old Covington Road, near where Sigman and Salem roads intersect with Interstate 20. Unless you live in Shady Grove, you're more likely to drive through it without noticing much, other than the park at Buchannan Circle.

For DeSandra Sawyer, the park is the focal point of the community and a dangerous place for children because of the traffic along Old Covington Road. The park with its basketball courts and playground is situated close to the road.

"One of the main issues with the community is the safety of this park," she said. "With this being a main highway the traffic is very heavy. When the children play, shooting basketball or whatever, if the ball goes out into the street your natural instinct is to go for it. When you look at it, there's no barrier or if somebody is texting and driving coming through here, if they come off the road they are coming straight down into the park with the children."

Sawyer, who is a minister at Shady Grove Baptist Church, organized a civic committee this summer for Shady Grove to work on improving the area. The group has already held a neighborhood clean up event and held a small festival, Shady Grove Day.

Sawyer and neighbors were encouraged by Oscar Davis, a deacon at the church, and they are working on a plan for fencing and guard rails for the park.

The property is owned by the church, which leases it to Rockdale County to operate the park. Sawyer said a goal is to build a community center on land adjacent to the park that is also owned by the church, but she said the group is taking baby steps and looking for park improvements first.

"The other parcel of land where the trees are taking over the park, the church also owns that, but the county leases the park, so it's the county's responsibility and we're trying to have that stuff removed," she said. "Maybe that space can be used for a community garden because a center is a long ways off, but it would build morale and continue to bring the church and the community together."

Sawyer and a neighbor spoke with the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners recently to express their concerns and look for some help. There were no promises made, but the commissioners said they would see what the county could do for the park.

Shady Grove has had a difficult time during the past 25 years. Illicit drug use gave the community a bad reputation beginning in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. Sawyer grew up in Shady Grove and moved back in 2007 with her four children to be near her parents.

Sawyer said she has seen Shady Grove fight back as a community since moving back. A core of long-time residents is joined with young families to bring some life back to the area. Sawyer said she knows of four Hispanic families and a couple of white families who have moved to the area recently.

"You can see it coming back more just by walking down the streets," she said. "There's more children, and you'll see mothers with strollers."

Another challenge is the area is zoned commercial. The residential area is sandwiched on three sides by commercial development and the CSX railroad tracks.

Sawyer said development swept through the area and there were times when she had a difficult time getting to her parents' house due to construction or detours. Neighbors who chose not to sell their property found commercial development abutting their property. "They were offering pennies on the dollar and a lot of times it wasn't even enough to buy a new house, so some people didn't sell," Sawyer said.

There has not been much development in the area for several years, and Sawyer said she hopes zoning of the neighborhood can be addressed one day.

"People are just wanting to know that this can be their home and I'm trying to get it as nice as possible so they can be proud of the area and at least have it comparable to some other neighborhoods," she said. "It seems like Rockdale and Conyers have forgotten about us."