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New park welcomed
Fowler opens with fanfare
fowler 7 bikes
Troy Walker bikes in the skate park at Fowler Park, which officially opened Friday. - photo by Jim Dean

About a dozen boys on boards and bikes rolled across the untarnished concrete.

Children slid down new slides while adults in suits strolled across the never-been-played-on artificial turf field.

Enjoying the features and sunshine, residents and community leaders gathered Friday to celebrate the official opening of Fowler Park in south Forsyth.

Jerry Kinsey, the county's director of parks and recreation, thanked a large group who played a role in making the 85-acre park a reality.

"I think it's one of the best parks within the Southeast, if not over the United States," Kinsey said during the ceremony. "Fowler Park will be a great place for families and communities to grow together."

The park, which is off Hwy. 9 near Castleberry Road, bears the name of the Fowler family, who has deep roots in Forsyth, and sold the county the site in 2001.

The family donated a statue, titled Nature's Little Helpers, which rests in front of the park's administration building.

Fowler Park boasts new features and amenities not available at other county recreation sites. Perhaps most notable is a 23,000-square-foot skate park, the county's first.

Comparable to Central Park in size, Fowler will also add more space for athletics. Among the features: a track; four baseball fields; six courts each for basketball and tennis; and six soccer/lacrosse fields.

The new park also boasts a paved walking trail that winds through the woods, the county's largest pavilion and a 5-acre open area suitable for large events.

The county has scheduled a grand opening event for April 2, with family activities in the green space.

Brian Tam, chairman of the county commission, expressed pride Friday in the county's parks and recreation system.

"This park has so much to offer and will certainly fill a need in the southern part of the county," Tam said.

He also thanked the voters for making the funding possible through the $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond.

The park came in under budget, Tam said, and still has some more pieces in the works.

The connection trailhead to the Big Creek Greenway multi-use trail is expected to open next week.

A running track is slated to open in April, and the 1.5-acre dog park will follow in May.

Work has also began at Fowler on a recreation center, which could open as early as spring 2012.

Cindy Mills, an 11-year member of the parks and recreation board, said she's humbled at the sight of the new park.

"I pray  ... that we have community members that step forward and take pride and put that pride into this park so that it doesn't just look good today," Mills said.

Standing near the new soccer fields, Steve Billstrom, a volunteer for the United Futbol Academy, looked on in admiration.

"It's unbelievable what they've done here," Billstrom said. "It's top notch."

The academy will be the first group to use the artificial turf field as one site of its all-turf countywide tournament this weekend.

Turf fields, Billstrom said, provide the ability for year-round play and safer conditions.

Linda Ebert, the organization's communications director, said she's amazed at how well-suited the fields are to athletes' needs.

"They put it so much homework on what's going to make a safe and solid environment for the kids," Ebert said.

She added that the county is likely to see a return on its investment, since the academy alone holds four tournaments a year that draw visitors from across the Southeast.

Also at Fowler, an often overlooked hobby has its first county home.

The outdoor skatepark, designed by the renowned Wally Hollyday, will provide a place for those who enjoy a nonorganized athletic activity, Tracy Clark said.

"We as a sport in the community are now being recognized ... as the true sport that we are," said Clark, the former owner of TNT Skateboarding and Skatepark, which recently closed.