Those who have lived in Snellville since the ‘70s or earlier may remember when there wasn’t a single park in city limits. Longtime residents may also remember that around that time, a local activist by the name of Thomas W. Briscoe organized a crew to change that.
Snellville’s very first park was created in 1974. It required the combined efforts of the mayor and city council as well as other local organizers including T.W. Briscoe. A grant called The Land and Water Conservation Fund Project paid 50 percent of the park’s $486,000 cost, and the remainder was paid by the city.
The park was named after its visionary planner and later became known to as “the jewel of the city.” As former mayor Emmett Clower recalls, “It was a selling point. When someone was trying to sell property, they would show potential buyers the park, and it helped property values.”
Four purchases were required to acquire the entire park property, which now spans 95 acres. Today, Briscoe Park features amenities that allow locals to come fish at the lake, play sports, have picnics and events, swim and enjoy the outdoors.
Lisa Platt is the Director of Snellville’s Parks and Recreation Department and oversees all four of Snellville’s City Parks, as well as the city’s senior service programs. Her office is in the guest services building at Briscoe Park.
Of the facilities she oversees, Briscoe is the only one that is open to the public, and so Platt considers it a priority to ensure the community knows it’s there and that they can utilize the park for their enjoyment.
“My job is, first, to serve the public and reach as many different people as possible,” Platt said. “At one point, we were known for our soccer program, but we want people to do more things at the park. We want the park to be used by everyone.”
That’s a shift from her previous position with Park Maintenance. “At that time, my main goal was to make sure the park was as safe as possible. That’s still part of my job, but now, my focus is to make sure we offer as many programs and do enough to bring as many different kinds of people as possible.”
Platt advises those looking for a place to host their next family reunion or get together to consider Brisoe. Its amenities include four pavilions, a gazebo, two indoor event rooms, two softball fields, two basketball courts, two softball fields, and two basketball courts.
“We welcome folks to come utilize any of the tennis or the basketball courts on a first-come-first-served basis. We have a pool, and people can fish on the lake, no permit needed. We have playgrounds, and we do allow field rentals for those who want to make a reservation for a pavilion and utilize a field.”
In addition, Briscoe is home to many summer camps, youth sports leagues, and programs lead by churches and other organizations who rent the park’s fields and amenities.
The park staff runs a few of their own programs such as an Adult Softball league and swim lessons at the park’s pool which is open until Labor Day. And as Briscoe expands, they may add more programming.
The park is entering the fourth phase of its Master Plan and may soon undergo an expansion funded by SPLOST. Some ideas for the expansion include a multi-use building with a gym and indoor basketball courts. But before anything is confirmed, Parks and Recreation will need to revisit the Master Plan to ensure it still meets the needs of the community.
“I’ve been here for 16 years, and — typical of every professional industry, and even with the kind of sports people play — you get fads, and some things come and go. So, something we try to do is try to move with that ebb and flow and keep up with whatever is going on in order to give the community what it wants. Demographics and age often affect what is wanted from our local parks, and our job is to keep up with the basics of that and know what our community wants.”
Snellville still ranks among Gwinnett’s smaller cities, and, according to Platt, its Parks and Recreation Department reflects that intimacy.
“It goes back to that personal touch. When something gets too big, and you have all these layers, it’s hard to keep that. We tend to be more in touch and have more response to the public.”
While there are many city parks in Gwinnett, the cities that do not have a Parks and Recreation Department outnumber those that do. Platt considers Snellville fortunate to have kept theirs. “I believe we should always keep a city Parks and Recreation Department,” she said.
It’s that close connection with the community which makes Platt’s job interesting. A Florida native who moved to Gwinnett well into her career, Platt enjoys hearing old stories about Briscoe’s man-made lake which was built before there was a local parks system.
“I still hear stories about people swimming and fishing on the lake when it was private property. I’m not from here, so it’s interesting to hear how central this place has been to the community,” Platt said.
Part of that hype, Platt believes, is because parks offer holistic support to the community.
“My standpoint is that the mind, body, and soul are connected. So, in explaining that, my go-to story is – There’s a secretary. She’s been answering calls all day, and her stress levels are rising. So, she grabs her lunchbox and drives to the nearest park to watch the geese. Then she goes back work to work, and her stress is relieved so she can get through the day. Maybe she doesn’t even get out of the car – but my point is, we should be able to offer that complete package of mind, body, and soul. We should provide a safe haven for our community.”
Of the park, Mayor Barbara Bender of Snellville said, “The city is very fortunate to have the Park as an amenity. Supporting our community in recreational opportunities is a major priority for the City Council and maintaining and enhancing our park has been a priority.”
The mayor also said the city is working on their “Greenway” Master Plan to connect Briscoe Park with their upcoming Towne Center and Oak Rd. Park.
“We have applied for a grant to allow us to construct a portion of the trail to connect the Towne Center with Briscoe Park,” Mayor Bender said.
Briscoe Park is located at 2500 Sawyer Pkwy. in Snellville. Visit the webpage (https://www.snellville.org/parks-recreation) to learn about upcoming events and programs. To reserve a space, call the park office at (770)985-3535.