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Sprinklers provide water for the fresh sod as part of the transformation of the renamed Hospitality Park in Decatur.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Sprinklers provide water for the fresh sod as part of the transformation of the renamed Hospitality Park in Decatur.

A new day for Hospitality
Park Transformation making Decatur gateway a place for families

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Jeff Dunlap said he made one major mistake on the latest renovation work at Hospitality Park.

He forgot to take "before" photos to illustrate the dramatic improvement when compared to the "after" photos.

The park at Decatur's Tennessee River gateway looks so amazing, it's hard to remember how rough it looked before, said Dunlap, director of Decatur Parks and Recreation.

"I call it the 'Wow! effect,' " he said.

Changing a reputation

Crews from Pro Rain in Athens have been greening the place formerly called Day Park, which long held a reputation for attracting mostly undesirable and unlawful activity.

Two years ago, the city unveiled plans to transform the park into a family gathering place with enhanced fishing amenities. It specifically was intended to be a welcome site for the North Alabama Birding Trail.

Pro Rain began by moving dirt around, filling in low spots and leveling the surface before installing a parkwide sprinkler system. It has since been laying 17,000 square feet of emerald zoysia sod that instantly transformed the park's rough and rustic appearance into a lush, pastoral scene.

"This is the first thing people are going to see when they come across the causeway. It's got to look good," said Paul Floyd, facilities and operations manager for Parks and Recreation.

Floyd said besides new grass, the work includes installing a walking/fishing trail that transverses the park, following the canal. It will be made of crushed limestone.

The parking lots and roads also will get a new gravel surface, and the parking lots will be enlarged and more clearly defined, Floyd said, noting the perimeter of all the grassy areas will be protected with wood posts and mulch. All the trees also will have rings of mulch.

Besides the grass, the city will add color with a flowerbed near the entrance and dogwood and maple trees around the park.

The Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association made the transformation possible by adopting the park in 2005. It designated $300,000 of its self-imposed hotel room occupancy tax toward making it a showplace and tourism draw for the birding trail, which opened that same year.

Since then, city and contract crews removed more than 40 dead or dying trees, erected a bird trail information kiosk, renovated a trail to a new two-story bird-viewing platform, removed the old Point Mallard billboard and concrete footings, enhanced the riverbank with riprap and gave the entrance bridge a facelift with stone work.

After all that, the city had $170,000 left to spend.

Dunlap said he wanted to use the remaining money to "make the biggest impact" on the park's image. The current work exhausts available funds, he added, so he will have to meet with the hospitality association to determine the next step.

According to the master plan unveiled two years ago, that could be installing lights, a restroom facility, picnic pavilions, a fish cleaning station or laying out a few miles of walking trails in the woods, part of which will require wooden boardwalks.

Besides sprucing up Hospitality Park, Dunlap said, his department has decided to add some of the maintenance responsibilities on the causeway. The Alabama Department of Transportation doesn't mow or spray weed killer as often as it needs, so the city will supplement the state's efforts, he said.

Julie Hill, Microtel manager who was president of the hospitality association when it made the commitment, said the changes are working because even before the recent landscaping she saw more families using the park.

"It's just totally different, she said. "To me, it just makes Decatur so much more inviting. It just makes you want to have a picnic."

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