The City of Thomasville has announced an improvement plan for Cherokee Lake Park that will eventually connect the Community Trail with one of Thomasville’s most popular public green spaces. While the park was not initially included in the 2017 park improvement initiative, repairs needed to the spillway dam have given City of Thomasville engineers an opportunity to address other concerns around the lake.
“The dam has developed some holes, and there is seepage occurring from the lake,” said Jerry Pionessa, Assistant City Manager/City Engineer. “The dam is not a danger to public safety or to park users right now. We are taking proactive steps now to perform these repairs before the bridge structure is impacted.”
While the dam is being repaired, the picnic pavilions and playground will remain open. However, pedestrian traffic will be limited on the north and south ends of the walking trail that surrounds the lake. “We understand this is a very popular walking path in our community, and the work that we are performing will be a temporary inconvenience for our park users. In the end, however, these improvements will result in a better park experience for our community,” said Pionessa.
While the dam is undergoing repairs at Cherokee Lake, City staff will also work to address other areas that need improvements. “We will be widening the trail on the west side of the lake so that this section connects to the Community Trail that will cross Smith Avenue at Susie Way,” said Pionessa.
Pionessa said that boards along the boardwalk sections will also be replaced as needed, including any along the dock areas. The dock will also be extended on the west side, giving local fishing enthusiasts another area of the lake to enjoy. In order to make the necessary repairs to the lake, Cherokee Lake will be drained beginning next month.
“Unfortunately, there is no other way to address the repairs needed at the dam and also provide some additional improvements to the fish habitats of the lake without draining it,” said Pionessa. “The lake will need to be as dry as possible before work can begin.”
Pionessa said the City is concerned about the wildlife that makes their home at the lake, and steps are being taken to mitigate the impact to them. “We’d like to first encourage those that enjoy fishing to fish Cherokee Lake as much as possible over the next month,” said Pionessa.
Once the lake drains to levels that will no longer support the remaining fish population, the fish will be relocated to the Cassidy Road Pond.
“This will actually help the Cassidy Road Pond, as that has a very small number of fish remaining,” said Pionessa. “This is also a public area, so our community is able to fish this pond as an alternative during the Cherokee Lake improvements and after when the restocked fish population needs time to grow.”
Cherokee Lake will be re-stocked with fish after the project is completed, tentatively scheduled for January 2018. “We’ll stock it first with brim and catfish and then follow with some bass in May, all of which are very popular fish in our area,” said Pionessa.
The geese in Cherokee Lake will also be relocated by the Department of Natural Resources beginning later this month. “I know many in our community like to feed the geese and enjoy their presence in the park, but for their safety, we need to relocate them prior to any work beginning,” said Pionessa. “We are working very closely with DNR on all phases of this project to make sure any impact to wildlife is managed as much as possible.”
Trees and lighting will also be addressed in the improvement plan. As part of the project initiation, an arborist was engaged to help determine the condition and safety of the park trees.
“We’ve worked with an arborist in other parks to determine the health of the tree population in our public greenspaces, which is particularly important when you have so many active park users in a space such as Cherokee Lake,” said Pionessa. “We anticipate there will be some trees recommended for removal in the final report, but we will also work to coordinate the re-planting of trees with our community at the conclusion of the project,” he said. Additionally, Pionessa said that some of the trees that are removed will be used to improve the fish habitats in the lake.
The project is expected to begin the preparation phase in June and continue into July, with the removal of the geese followed by draining the lake scheduled first. Work will kick off later in the fall once the lake has had adequate time to dry completely, tentatively scheduled for September. Lauren Radford, Director of Engagement and Outreach, said there are a number of community sessions that are in the works to help educate park users on the improvements.
“We are planning to have community walks and other opportunities later this month in the park so that we can share information with citizens about this project,” said Radford. “It will be an excellent opportunity to ask questions and gain an understanding about what is included in this project and why it is necessary.”
Radford said that these public engagement sessions will be announced on the City’s website, Thomasville.org, and Facebook page.
“We will work as diligently as possible to complete the work and return a much-improved park space to our community in early 2018,” said Radford. “We know this will be inconvenient to many, but we feel the improvements will be worth the temporary disruption. Cherokee Lake is a definite jewel in our park system, and we want to do everything we can to make sure the lake remains healthy and the dam and walking paths remain safe for our community.”