For the Town of Garner, recreation and the great outdoors are a way of life
Garner's robust offering of trails, playgrounds, and recreational facilities and programming are the result of strategic investments by town's leaders.Posted — Updated
If you're looking for a breath of fresh air in the heart of the Triangle, you'll find it in Garner where there are plenty of ways to explore the outdoors, break a sweat and play to your heart's content.
The Town of Garner manages parks and green spaces that cover more than 475 acres — including White Deer Park, 96 acres of parkland with a LEED Gold Certified Nature Center that sits adjacent to Lake Benson Park. In addition, the 365-acre Lake Benson, located in Garner, offers boating and fishing opportunities thanks to a town-operated boathouse.
The town's robust offering of trails, playgrounds, and recreational facilities and programming are the result of strategic investments by Garner's leaders that have greatly enhanced the quality of life for residents and visitors.
"The town has invested roughly $37 million in parks and recreation facilities in Garner," said Sonya Shaw, director of the town's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. "There's also investment in programming that we offer to our citizens. We want our residents, and even our visitors, to be active and engaged."
Garner's leaders have understood for decades that in order to build a community that people want to call home, you need ample open spaces and ballfields for kids and families to play, sidewalks that safely connect neighborhoods to schools, parks and playgrounds, and greenways that immerse residents in the natural world.
Resident Bob Deaton moved to Garner 20 years ago and said Garner's hometown, family-friendly feel was appealing — as was its attractive cost of living. He said a big reason why he and his wife chose the house where their family lives is its close proximity to parks, and to the South Garner Greenway and other connected trails.
"When we came to this area for my work, we started looking for a place to live and Garner fit us pretty well," Deaton said. "The house we're in now is very close to White Deer Park and Lake Benson. We're able to get out and ride our bikes, or we can walk and get out on the greenway. We can get outdoors without having to load our bikes in the car and then drive. We're right here and part of it."
Deaton said you can find him waking up early most summer mornings to ride his bike along the greenway through White Deer Park.
"White Deer Park is sort of the crown jewel of Garner, woven right into some of the neighborhoods that are in the heart of Garner," he said. "The town has done a good job of being on the lookout for property that can become park space, and making sure that these properties are close by for residents to be able to use, walk or bike to and to really become part of their lives."
White Deer Park features two miles of paved trails, two playgrounds, a wildflower meadow, an arboretum, multiple picnic shelters, and the 2,500-square-foot Nature Center, which is a hub for environmental education for children and adults year-round. In addition to those educational opportunities, the park promotes health and wellness in the community and is a wildlife preservation habitat. The park's facilities were voted a Best of 2016 Wedding Spot on wedding-spot.com, and this summer the National Recreation and Park Association named White Deer Park grand prize winner in its first-ever national BioBlitz, a program that raises awareness about the importance of pollinator species.
Shaw said 10 years ago Garner was known more for its sports and athletic offerings. While football, basketball, baseball and other athletics still are important, the town has been trying to provide a more balanced mix that also includes arts and cultural programming, and recreational spaces that can accommodate less structured activities.
"We want to provide those safe spaces for people to just partake in leisurely activities that aren't necessarily associated with a league or a class — to have spaces to walk, jog, run, bike and hike," Shaw said. "We're just trying to make sure we provide a wide range of opportunities and amenities for the public."
Garner is buzzing with excitement over its new, state-of-the-art, 40,000-square-foot recreation center that is slated to open later this year at the corner of Main and Montague Streets in the historic downtown district. The center will house three high school-sized gymnasiums, an indoor walking track, and a multi-purpose space for camp, fitness and art programs. The facility will also feature original artwork by local artist Sean Kernick.
In addition, the town has purchased two parcels of land — the Meadowbrook property, which was a historically African American golf club, and a tract on East Garner Road. Both will be part of a comprehensive planning process to develop the properties into public parkland. Residents can expect to be able to weigh in about the development of those properties during stakeholder meetings hosted by the town.
Shaw put her department's strategic planning efforts in the context of the rapid growth Garner is experiencing as the 13th fastest-growing municipality in the state.
"We have watched Garner grow from a small bedroom community to a thriving town in the Triangle," she said. "We have a number of young families coming in, we've got seniors in our area — we certainly want to know where we're headed in the future and how we can all work together to really provide a solid array of recreation amenities and opportunities for our public."
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