Local real estate broker Billy Franke stands at the base of the new water feature at Augusta’s Pendleton King Park and smiles. The $19,000 waterfall, which features water falling from five separate places and is the cornerstone of a larger project, has been running for three days and everything seems to be working the way it’s supposed to. The pumps, which he purchased from a man in Michigan, are running smoothly and the strainer baskets are clear.
“Things are looking good,” he says.
Though in many ways Pendleton King Park looks like any other park in Augusta’s inventory, it enjoys an unusual relationship with the city. Formed by a trust and preserved by the nonprofit Pendleton King Park Foundation, the 64-acre park is leased to the city of Augusta for a dollar a year.
“The city takes care of the daily maintenance of the park, but a lot of time our foundation will cooperate with the city to do projects like this,” Franke says, nodding at the waterfall.
Robert Levin, the director of the Recreation, Parks and Facilities department, agrees that the relationship is mutually beneficial, even if it is a little unorthodox.
“Everything isn’t very well defined, but between the two of us we take care of pretty much everything,” he says. “For all intents and purposes it’s used as a publically owned piece of property, so people don’t really distinguish it from other areas of the park system. But it’s a gorgeous piece of property and it’s great for the citizens of this city to be able to use it.”
“We have that kind of relationship with other organizations where we work together and they take on some responsibilities and we help them as we can,” Levin says. “But at Pendleton King Park it’s the complete park that is included in the partnership, where at other locations it might be a building or something smaller.”
Though it currently has tennis courts and picnic facilities and playground equipment and a dog park, Franke says it’s fundamentally a bird sanctuary with several gardens.
“We’ve had all kinds of different things out here, including a bear for a time,” Franke says. “We’ve tried a lot of different things and we were even going to make a zoo out here at one time, but the basics have always come down to the gardens and the birds.”
Franke moves away from the waterfalls and makes his way down the path to an area that has recently been cleared.
“A couple of years ago we applied for a grant through the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy (now called the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences) and we did not get it,” Franke says. “But another opportunity became available about a year ago in conjunction with Wells Fargo and the Department of Natural Resources, and so we’re using the water in this pond and building another wetlands.”
Taking inspiration from the manufactured wetlands at the city’s waste water treatment facility, the foundation decided to manufacture a small wetlands of their own to filter the dirty water from the pond, called Lake Elizabeth, and pump it back up through the falls so that the lake will become clean and have a better oxygen content.
“We’ve got 300 man hours or something like that already clocked for the project,” Franke says.
Because the grant stresses community involvement, Franke has brought in people from all over, including the Fort Gordon Youth Challenge Academy, which dispatched 26 boys to help clear out the area for the wetlands.
“This will be an educational tool for the kids as well as having a beautiful area that’s serving a purpose,” Franke says.
One of the park’s most well-known features is its 18-hole disc golf course, which is the 12th-ranked course in the state of Georgia and is pretty much exclusively maintained by a volunteer named Fast Eddie, who is also happens to be the 2013 Grand Masters Champion in the South Carolina point series.
“Fast Eddie has kind of adopted it,” Franke says. “He spends two hours out here every day. He’s polished this thing like it’s the Augusta National of disc golf.”
Fast Eddie, who can be found riding around in a golf cart if he’s not actually playing, says he volunteered because he saw a need and he’s very particular about the way he does things. He started out constructing benches at every hole and now there are water stations and tip-proof garbage cans and improved tee pads.
“The course was being neglected, and I love this park,” he says. “I love the whole park, and within one year we’ve completely transformed the entire course.”
Trying to limit the chances of accidental contact with park visitors, the redesign takes the course around the perimeter and then deep into the trees.
According to both Franke and Levin, the unusual relationship works well for all parties, though Franke admits he wishes there was more involvement from the commission.
“The county commissioners and the mayor are listed on the email list for all our meetings, and in the 10 years I’ve been involved with it, not a single one of them has been to a meeting,” Franke says. “And we have them monthly.”
In spite of being underappreciated, Franke says the park is packed most evenings and weekends and provides passive recreation that can be appreciated by everyone.
“This park is centered right in the middle of everybody demographically in Augusta,” Franke says. “So it’s kind of like our Central Park.”