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Parks and Recreation looking to improve park system

A highlight is summer long Let's Play Clay program

Kyla Woodard
Posted 6/6/24

CLAY COUNTY — Clay County residents can expect to see more significant changes and additions within the local park system.  Currently, on the third leg of the park system’s Master Plan, the …

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Parks and Recreation looking to improve park system

A highlight is summer long Let's Play Clay program


CLAY COUNTY — Clay County residents can expect to see more significant changes and additions within the local park system. 

Currently, on the third leg of the park system’s Master Plan, the county plans to improve the atmospheres of the parks with resident feedback. Director of Parks and Recreation Justin Pierce said the master plan comprises a comprehensive overlook of Clay’s park system.

“With this Master Plan, it’s going to allow us to pair the comprehensive 2040 plan with the strategic plan that the county recently rolled out. As well looking at the levels of growth and where the county’s going to grow the most, to see those gaps and services in relation to parks,” Pierce said. “And where we should be looking at adding parks, where we should be looking at adding amenities based on what the public’s wanting to see, what they're needing.”

Along with stakeholder meetings, Pierce said the county has conducted six public input meetings in Oakleaf, Orange Park, Fleming Island, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg and Keystone Heights to get an understanding of what residents want.

“It’s the standardization of what the look and feel of our parks look like,” Pierce said. 

Pierce said the new plan will lead to a road map to help keep up with the county’s growth. 

“All of those park standards will come out of this Master Plan. As well as a 10-year CIP plan of what we should be building, what we should be improving on,” Pierce said. 

Pierce said the county is also remodeling playground units at Fox Meadow Park and Oakleaf Sports Complex and is setting up two major projects at Walter Odum Park and Ronnie Van Zant Park. These two projects include drainage and erosion control, respectively.

Amid the planned changes, Pierce said the parks remain a place of activity for local residents, and the county’s Let’s Play Clay mantra is a way to further promote and create recreational opportunities for them. 

“Any quality of life program that we’re engaging in, whether it’s a summer camp at Hunter Douglas or a pitch, hit and run, which we’re doing at Paul Armstrong Park later this month, that Let’s Play Clay initiative … us getting on the front lines and being an engaging member of that quality of life,” Pierce said. 

As of now, the parks are home to many activities, including hiking, sports, equestrian amenities, marinas, and several camping and treehouse sites for those who like the outdoor experience.

Additionally, Pierce said back in April, the county opened the first phase of the 250-acre Clay County Regional Sports Complex. Pierce said the complex is home to many sporting events that bring a lot of sports-related tourism to the area. 

“We opened up this past April with a large Jacksonville Jaguar flag football tournament that had teams from as far south as Tampa and far west as Louisiana,” Pierce said. “So, this is a one-of-a-kind complex that brings…opportunities for visitors to come into our county.” 

Along with physical activity, the parks also host learning opportunities. Pierce said that at Camp Chowenwaw, the Chowenwaw Centuries Exhibit Museum and the Pawpaw Nature Center offer free access to important Clay County artifacts and history.

“That hosts a lot of information from the history of the Girl Scouts in Clay County at that site. As well as indigenous people that lived in the land before America settled here,” Pierce said. “So, it’s a lot of artifacts and history in that museum.” 

Resident Ginger Black said that the history that the parks include is a big reason for her appreciation of them.

“Spring Park has so much history. And, I feel like they incorporated the natural aspect of it so well that not only can the kids play on the park, but then they can walk down to like the pool area and we can talk about the natural spring, and then we can talk about the history of that,” Black said. “And then walk over to the creek and we can see fish, and then walk over to the river and enjoy that.” 

Black said that in working for the Clay County Parks and Recreation 15 years ago, she saw firsthand the county’s dedication to maintenance and ensuring they had a staff that truly cared.

“They made sure that everything was always covered. The repairs and maintenance budget was always there, and the expansion for making sure that every area had a nice park to play. Which is super important to me,” Black said. 

Along with the local draw, out-of-county residents continue to flock to the Clay parks.

St. Johns County resident Kassie Wilson said that she chose Green Cove Springs’ Spring Park because of their well-kept maintenance and cleanliness.

St. Johns County resident Julie Gropper said she often comes to Spring Park because of the river and nature.

“It’s a nice, big park, so the kids have a lot of fun running around and can go cool off in the splash pad afterward,” Gropper said. 

Pierce said that Clay County Parks and Recreation aims to tackle the county's continued growth and the associated expectations head-on.

“That is something that we’ve really been pushing since I took over this department. And, building our staff accordingly to handle the growth of the county and the expectations and the level of service that residents want to see,” Pierce said.