By Jason Massad
jasonmassad@reporternewspapers.net

A lot of people really don’t know it, but Dunwoody has a Central Park.

Well, it’s not exactly in the middle of the city, it’s on the edge of it. And instead of a world-famous zoo, the red-brick buildings of a bygone medical facility are spread across the grounds of Brook Run Park.

On the plus side – and there are many – its 102 acres feature a well-used skate park; colorful new children’s playground equipment; a community garden and greenhouse; and a well-loved, fenced dog park shaded by pine trees.

While major development of the park has halted since DeKalb County formally handed the park over to Dunwoody in August, Brent Walker, the city’s low-key parks and recreation manager, clearly is excited about the possibilities.

The city will soon embark on a master planning process, with extensive outreach in the community, to create a plan for the park as one of the city’s premier retreats.

“The mindset now is to make it into a city park,” Walker said. “You know, kind of like Central Park. You have amenities, but it’s a green space, a passive park.”

About 1.5 miles north of I-285 on Peachtree Road, the park might not be central to Dunwoody, but it feels a long way away from the bumper-to-bumper traffic and the urban noise right around it.

The peaceful place in the urbanized area has prompted many residents to sacrifice the pleasure and convenience of their own backyards to take advantage of the shaded trails, large dog park and community garden.

The garden has plots so that people can grow their own fresh produce. Some is donated to a local food pantry. The dog park, meanwhile, is patrolled by animal-loving volunteers who perform the dirty work of keeping the shaded acre clean.

The eventual overhaul of the park isn’t threatening to those who have carved out their own spot at the park.

“I don’t think it could hurt us. We’re tucked back here in the corner,” said Laine Sweezey, a resident of Brookhaven and president of Brook Run Dog Park Association. She said that those who have made the dog park what it is today will surely play a part in shaping the vision for the park. “We’re waiting to hear where they are.”

Dunwoody, for its part, has performed little duties around the park to make it friendlier to users, while it schedules a master planning process in the coming weeks that will include focus groups and numerous community meetings to generate buy-in from city residents.

For instance, benches have been installed around the park and the underbrush of many years of felled pine branches has been cleared around some of the wooded trails.

City officials are also putting their money where their mouth is. A medical building near the dog park will be demolished by the end of the year.

“We want to involve everyone and meet those needs,” Walker said. “For people who use the dog park, that’s an eyesore.”

The plan to turn Brook Run into the crown jewel of the city’s park system will take a long time. Once envisioned as a regional park by DeKalb County to draw visitors from around northern Georgia, Dunwoody sees it differently. A majority of the property is deeded as green space, and city officials see it becoming a city park that draws in people from nearby communities.

“This is big on the minds of Dunwoody residents” as the city of 37,500 grows, Walker said. “Dunwoody is motivated, and they want public input from their city – lots of different types.”

Describing Dunwoody as an eco-friendly city, Walker said that structures that could be built on the property, like an outdoor amphitheater, will be LEED-certified, a growing movement among builders to reduce water use, electricity and other resources.

Landscape plans will include native vegetation and use of environmentally conscious pesticides to beat back weeds.

And despite the changes coming for the park, Walker says, Brook Run will continue to be well-loved and used by new residents of Dunwoody and county residents.

“The value to DeKalb County residents hasn’t changed,” he said “They are going to get the same benefits.”