Forsyth Park is a priceless asset to Savannah. Over the years as the city and tourism have grown, so have the amount and types of use of the park. In some ways, the park is being loved to death. Creating a Master Plan to act as a guideline for the park’s use and development is a way to protect this precious asset while also allowing it to evolve to meet the demands of modern life.
The purpose of a Master Plan is to protect and preserve the aspects of the park that we love while also establishing a vision for Forsyth Park for the future. The Plan will provide comprehensive guidelines and create a framework to determine actions needed to achieve the vision and be a guidance and policy tool for decision-making as implementation of the Plan occurs.
The Master Plan will:
- Provide a tangible assessment of the current condition of the park and outline opportunities for future infrastructure, educational and other enhancements
- Articulate a common vision for the park’s future with a clear set of recommendations and strategies for managing change
- Identify challenges and opportunities in the park and provide guidelines for decision-making
- When completed, the Master Plan for Forsyth Park will be a comprehensive action plan for managing and executing change for the park. The plan will include implementation guidance, act as a policy tool, and provide a platform for any potential future fundraising efforts.
In 2015, Trustees’ Garden Club identified a multi-year legacy project to give as a gift to the City of Savannah. The primary focus of the project is the creation of a Master Plan for Forsyth Park. A secondary goal is listing of the park as a National Historic Landmark as it is currently excluded from the National Historic Landmark District. This effort is called The Forsyth Park Project.
The process has been one of inclusion from the very beginning, where everyone has a seat at the table. Mayors Jackson, DeLoach and now Mayor Johnson, all of the Aldermen, numerous members of City staff, the MPC, as well as hundreds of outside organizations have been contacted to seek input and perspective every step of the way. From the beginning the project team has worked in partnership with City staff to create a comprehensive strategy to involve as many citizens across the community as possible.
Founded in 1926, Trustees’ Garden Club is part of The Garden Club of America, an organization of 201 member clubs with over 18,000 members nationwide. The Club has a long history of undertaking significant community improvement projects in every Aldermanic district, including many projects focused on the beautification of Forsyth Park.
The original community engagement strategy was designed before the pandemic hit. The process was then redesigned still including all of the elements but to now be primarily virtual while blending in some in-person elements where possible.
The Forsyth Park Project is a joint project of Trustees’ Garden Club and the City Of Savannah. The Master Plan portion of the project is being led by the landscape architecture firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz . NBW has assembled a team of highly sought-after professionals in relevant fields such as civil engineering, community engagement, historic preservation, lighting design, cost estimating, and public space management. In addition, the project team assembled a Technical Advisory Group, subject matter experts within city staff and other local organizations to consult on areas of the project within their areas of expertise.
Because Georgia state law regulates changes to existing monuments, the Forsyth Park Master Plan process will not make recommendations regarding the future of the Civil War Memorial. However, we encourage you to use the tools on the website to make your voice heard. All comments and feedback on how the memorial impacts users’ experiences at the park will be shared with City leadership and the Civil War Task Force to support that ongoing and separate effort.
The cost of the Master Plan is $600,000. Trustees’ Garden Club is paying for the plan in its entirety through fundraising efforts and grants. The City will bear no expense.
The Master Plan will establish a framework for achieving the collective vision of the community for the park and determine major & incremental actions integral to making the vision a reality. The plan will be a guidance & policy tool for decision-making as implementation occurs. Implementation will take place over the coming decades by coordinating efforts of city officials and departments, community members and non-profit partners.
Friends of Forsyth is the name of the project facilitated and funded by Trustees’ Garden Club in concert with the City of Savannah to create a Master Plan and apply for National Historic Landmark designation for Forsyth Park. The naming and branding of the project was done in consultation with City Staff. The website acts as the go to resource for the community to engage and provide feedback via surveys, links to community meetings, an ideas wall and interactive maps.
Why isn’t the treatment of the Confederate Monument/Civil War Memorial part of the Master Plan process?
Because Georgia state law presently regulates changes to existing monuments, the Forsyth Park Master Plan process will not make recommendations regarding the future of the Civil War Memorial in Forsyth Park. However, we can take comments and feedback on how the memorial impacts users’ experiences at the park. The City of Savannah has convened a Task Force for the purpose of developing recommendations for the treatment of the memorial that are “more representative of Savannah’s community while also preserving Savannah’s unique history.”
While the Master Plan will not determine the future treatment of the memorial, we encourage you to continue to use the tools on the website to make your voice heard. We will share your comments with City leadership and the Civil War Task Force to support that ongoing and separate effort.
The community has expressed a strong interest in a new monument in Forsyth Park. The idea for a new monument, is to allow today’s Savannahians to honor or memorialize stories that are important to you. There are a lot of strong feelings about the Civil War Memorial, and perhaps this new monument could be a way to find some balance, and to represent Savannah’s stories that are less frequently told or known. The master plan process will not identify the subject matter of this new monument; if the community agrees that this new monument is a good idea, the design of the monument will become a separate project.
What is the Master Plan doing to address the high speeds of traffic on Whitaker and Drayton Streets?
The city’s Traffic Engineering Department has noted that changing Whitaker and Drayton to one-lane would have far-reaching and costly ramifications, well beyond the perimeter of the park. Addressing the traffic issues on these streets was not identified as within the scope of this planning process based on discussion with City staff and elected officials at the beginning of the project. The design team encourages the city to continue to study these long-ranging infrastructural changes in order to make the streets safer for pedestrians. In the meantime, the Forsyth Park Master Plan proposes effective and aesthetically pleasing traffic calming devices at crosswalks: traffic tables will force cars to slow down, and will raise pedestrian circulation to the height of the curb, increasing pedestrian safety as people cross Whitaker and Drayton.
Why does the draft plan propose moving/replacing the Bandshell and Splash Pad when the city spent so much money to put them in?
The amphitheater was built in 2005. Over the years, through exposure to weather and use a number of issues have arisen that require it to be replaced:
- The lighting trusses are in poor condition and can not support the level of production equipment required by large events
- The electrical power by the stage is insufficient to support large events
- The sail canopy is worn out.
- The space between the stage and ramps and the Cafe creates an awkward and unsafe condition.
- There is inadequate space for load in and out for events.
- The splash pad adjacent to the stage is not safe. People tend to overflow up onto the stage to play, which becomes slippery when wet and becomes a fall hazard.
The design team has been in contact with the City Police, and we are looking to integrate ideas into the plan that will address safety concerns such as:
- A comprehensive lighting plan to install improved lighting (lighting that is appropriate for the use, in terms of light type, light brightness, and lighting control)
- Increased activity at night such as small and large events
- Increased numbers of security cameras, located per Police recommendations
The Master Plan will act as a roadmap for the preservation, evolution and maintenance of the park for the next 50 years. During the final phase of the project, the planning team will develop a phasing plan with cost estimates. The implementation timeline will be determined by the availability of funding.
Implementation of the Master Plan will take place gradually over the next several decades as funding is available to both construct and provide for on-going maintenance. The City would fund some of the improvements and others could be funded through a partnership between private and public sources.
The level of community engagement for this project as Mayor Johnson has said is unprecedented. Beginning in October of last year and concluding at the end of this month the process will have included 2 surveys, 1 comment sheet, 8 Saturday informational sessions in the park, 5 district meetings, 2 community-wide meetings and numerous presentations to neighborhood associations and other civic groups. The draft plan is a direct result of this process.
The comment period for this phase of the project ends September 30 so that the project can stay on schedule and on budget. The next step in the process is for the project team to compile all of the community comments on the draft plan and develop the final Master Plan which will be completed this fall. Implementation of the plan will occur over the years to come as funding for construction and maintenance become available.
The city relies heavily on Forsyth Park for passive and active recreation, farmers’ market, events, etc. This heavy use takes a toll on the park. The Master Plan will guide the preservation, maintenance, and development of the park for generations to come.
It is helpful to remember that all parks, especially urban parks, change over time to meet the needs of the community they serve. Forsyth Park has evolved since its establishment in 1841. Its use and character have changed dramatically over generations. What makes this moment so important is that this is the first time the Park will have a Master Plan to guide its evolution and that the City is asking its residents to voice their opinions so that future changes are based on the collective vision of the community.
A few current challenges facing the park:
- The existing tree canopy requires attention to prolong the health of the trees; the park needs a plan to ensure future generations enjoy the same shady canopy cover.
- The lighting in the park is very old and in poor condition; the park needs a comprehensive lighting plan to improve safety and usability.
- Stormwater does not drain properly in sections of the park; the park needs a plan to accommodate and upgrade stormwater run-off.
- Bikes and pedestrians are constantly in conflict; the park needs a plan to separate bikes and pedestrians.
There is a strong preference by the community to retain the Rotary playground in its current location. The community also ranked locating playgrounds at the south end of the park adjacent to restrooms and other activities in the top ten features they liked most.
To accommodate both of these requests, as well as the desire for gathering spaces with seating, the draft plan retains the location of the Rotary playground and proposes a new playground with water play on the southern end to provide an active play opportunity for children in that section of the park. The playground will be fenced per code and designed with best safety practices as well as buffered by a gathering space with seating and plantings. The new playground will be located adjacent to new public restrooms for easy access by children and parents. The old playground area next to the Fragrant Garden will become another gathering space to serve the central area of the park.
What will the space between the central sidewalk and the Fragrant Garden be used for if the old playground space is repurposed and a new one installed on the south end?
To help unify this area of the park and increase the civic nature of this space, the draft master plan proposes shifting one of the playgrounds to the south end of the park. The area currently holding the old playground would become a space surrounded by gardens where people can gather under the tree canopy to enjoy a refreshment, play board games, etc. The draft master plan proposes new tree plantings, so that the beautiful canopy extends to the south. Stone dust, or crushed stone pavement, allows for access by wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, etc; moveable furniture allows people flexibility to use the space – they can move their chairs together to hang out, in the sun or in the shade. Moveable seating also allows this space to host a range of small events. In addition, transitioning the use of this space to a more passive use also restores the historic integrity of this important threshold area of the park between the northern and southern ends of the park.
Stone dust, or crushed stone, is a hard packed material made of fine aggregate that allows for easy access by wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, etc. while providing a more aesthetically pleasing surface than asphalt or concrete. It often has a somewhat loose topping with a texture that “crunches” when you walk on it. For parks and gardens, this material is often more appropriate than solid hardscaping because it can be detailed to allow water to absorb rather than run off, providing a healthier environment for trees. At Forsyth Park, the master plan proposes stone dust areas with moveable seating at the large gathering areas under the tree canopy and along the allee on the south end of the park where the Farmers’ Market is located.
Can we bring back the sphinxes that were historically located at the Gaston Street entrance to the park?
We are on the case! A group of volunteers are conducting research to try and locate the sphinxes and hopefully return them to the entrance at the northern end of the park. In the meantime, here’s a fun story that ran on WJCL in August, 2021:
Recordings of the public meetings have been uploaded onto Vimeo. You can find them by clicking on this link:
Why is National Historic Landmark (NHL) designation being sought for Forsyth Park? Does that mean that changes to the Park (such as monument alterations/removal) would be prevented?
There are different historic designation programs (local, state and federal) which provide differing levels of protection and recognition and which can occur simultaneously. Currently, the north end of Forsyth Park is in the locally designated Savannah Historic District and southern end is in the locally designated Victorian District. Local designation provides the highest level of oversight and control of what changes can occur to historic resources. The north end of the park is also currently within the National Register Savannah Historic District while the southern end is in the National Register Victorian District. These designations are at a federal level and provide recognition of the park as significant. They do not prevent alterations from occurring (unless federal funds are involved). They allow the park to qualify for certain competitive grants. National Historic Landmark designation is the highest level of federal recognition of a historic site. Designation as an NHL qualifies the park for an additional pool of competition grants. Like listing on the National Register, it does not prevent alterations from occurring unless federal funds are involved. NHL designation is being sought in order to raise awareness and recognition of the significance of Forsyth Park as well as to qualify for additional grants.
The Master Plan is a comprehensive and multi-faceted document meant to guide the preservation, design and maintenance of the park for decades. In addition to the park design, the plan will include:
- Historic timeline of the park including national, regional and local context
- The first ever digital topographic survey
- A comprehensive tree survey with health assessment and treatment recommendations
- A comprehensive inventory of the site specifying the location and condition of all of the structures, fixtures, monuments, markers, etc.
- Recommendations for furniture, fixtures and pavements
- Lighting and maintenance plans
- Project phasing with cost estimates
- A design schematic detailing programming and infrastructure projects
The community was united in their desire to retain the open lawns. The draft master plan retains 100% of the existing active open lawn space. In the corners of the lawns where storm water flows leaving these spaces persistently wet and muddy, the draft plan proposes storm water gardens. These gardens are a natural solution as they “drink” the run off while also providing an educational opportunity for the community.
Elected officials and city staff across three administrations have been involved from the beginning of the project. Members of city staff such as the Chief Operating Officer of Infrastructure and Development/Assistant City Manager and the Senior Director, Greenscapes Division have consulted and guided the planning process throughout. In addition, the project team formed a Technical Advisory Group consisting of numerous subject matter experts from both city staff and individuals from companies and organizations with specific expertise. These groups met multiple times on site in the park to address areas of concern.
Forsyth Park belongs to all of the citizens of Chatham County. Your feedback is an important part of designing a Master Plan that preserves this iconic treasure while also meeting the needs of our community.
Owners of off-leash dogs at Forsyth Park are in violation of the city ordinance. Unfortunately the master plan cannot solve this problem, and the City Police will have to continue to respond to off-leash calls until these owners bring their dogs to another park, for instance the dog run at Daffin Park.
John Forsyth Sr. (October 22, 1780 – October 21, 1841) was a 19th century American politician from Georgia. He represented the state in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and also served as the 33rd Governor of Georgia. In addition, he served as the Secretary of State under both Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Forsyth Park is named in his honor.
The new playground will be positioned 140 feet from Park Avenue, fenced per code, designed with best safety practices, and buffered by a gathering space with seating and plantings as well as the sidewalk and tree lawn. By comparison, the Rotary playground is 122 feet from the parking lot next to the cafe.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety recommends as one of the factors to consider when selecting a site for a playground nearby accessible hazards such as roads with traffic . In such cases, CPSC recommends providing a method to contain children within the playground such as a dense hedge or a fence. If fences are used they should conform to local codes and/or to American Society for Testing Materials designation ASTM F-2049. This specification provides the recommended requirements for fences for the protection of children’s outdoor play spaces in public locations. Where roads are between 100 – 200 feet away from play equipment, fencing is required. All fencing will be constructed in accordance with these guidelines.
The existing public restrooms in the eastern dummy fort have 4 women’s stalls, 3 men’s stalls, 1 urinal, and 2 ADA restrooms (one each located in the women’s and men’s).
The proposed new restrooms on the south end of the park would add 8 women’s stalls, 6 men’s stalls, 2 urinals, and 4 unisex ADA restrooms.
Protecting, preserving and planning for the future of the tree canopy in the park has been at the forefront of the project. A comprehensive tree survey has been conducted cataloging the location, size, health and treatment recommendations for every tree in the park. The local project team arborist along with the City of Savannah Forestry and Greenscapes Departments, Savannah Tree Foundation and the Park and Tree Commission (6 arborists in total) have all been involved in the development of the draft master plan. When the plan is fully implemented, 88 new trees will be planted in the park, a net gain of 45 trees. 43 trees will be removed over the years as various aspects of the plan are executed. They are as follows:
10 dead or diseased trees to be removed
- 1 Callary Pear
- 1 Sugar Berry
- 1 Magnolia
- 1 Palmetto
- 1 Dogwood
- 1 Green Ash
- 1 Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar).
- 3 Quercus virginiana (Live Oak). One has chestnut blight, one has asymmetrical crown and girdling roots, and one has surface roots and was planted in an inappropriate location according to the City of Savannah Forestry Department.
33 trees in fair condition to be removed and replaced
- 26 Lagerstromia (Crape Myrtle). They will be replaced with similar screening trees
- 7 Photinia (Red Tip). They will be replaced with similar screening trees
The southern edge of the new stage is proposed to be located at the current southern edge of the existing splash pad. Thus, the stage will not further encroach upon the open lawn.
Recordings of the public meetings held on September 14 at 2:00 & 6:00pm have been uploaded onto Vimeo.
Click the link below to access meeting recordings:
Forsyth Park Draft Plan Community Meetings
Describe how the sidewalks on the perimeter of the park will be changed to accommodate separate bike and pedestrian lanes?
Separating bike and pedestrian traffic was the second most requested enhancement requested by the community. To provide a safe experience for both cyclists and pedestrians, a new multi-use path will be created. The path will include a 6 foot one-way bike lane separate from an 8 foot two-way pedestrian lane, totaling an overall width of 14 feet. Every tree around the perimeter of the park has been taken under consideration and accommodations made with the design to ensure their health. The new widened surface will incorporate tree protection measures to protect the tree roots.
A stormwater garden consists of water-tolerant, native-adaptive planting at low points where rainwater collects. Planting stormwater gardens in the low areas around the open lawns that are persistently muddy is a natural way to address this issue. The drainage swales at the open lawns will be re-graded to direct water towards the stormwater gardens where the plants will drink up excess water to avoid ponding on the fields and sidewalks.
City of Savannah elected officials and staff have been involved in the Master Plan project from the beginning and are supportive of the enhancements to the park requested by the community. Installing bathrooms on the south end of the park and replacing all of the lighting which is in poor condition were priorities identified by the city before the Master Plan project started. These and other enhancements will only be initiated when funds are available not only to construct/install them but also provide for their on-going maintenance.
The trees in Forsyth Park are integral to its character and have been at the forefront of the master planning process from the beginning. A comprehensive survey of the canopy has been conducted, and a health assessment and recommendations for care are now in place for every tree in the park. The City of Savannah Forestry Department, Savannah Tree Foundation, the Park and Tree Commission and independent arborists have consulted on every aspect of the draft plan as relates to the trees in the park. These experts have recommended several methods for alleviating stress on the trees such as aerating soil around the roots to mitigate compacted soil and new permeable paving to help protect the trees and create a more consistent and safe walking surface. In some special cases, pavement will need to bridge over existing roots so they can continue to grow. In the long term, as trees age out, they will be replaced so the overall character of the park does not change dramatically, but the overall health of the trees in Forsyth Park improves.
The National Park Service has been engaged since the beginning of the project and has had the opportunity to review the proposed plan. Formal comments are pending. Meetings with the Park and Tree Commission, Historic Site and Monument Commission, Historic District Board of Review, Historic Preservation Commission and Metropolitan Planning Commission have either already occurred or are planned during the months of September and October. All of this feedback will be taken into consideration in the final plan design.
A children’s garden is the sixth most requested enhancement to the park by the community. The planning team took the feedback from the community regarding the concern of the siting of the garden too close to the street to heart. The proposed garden would be positioned behind the Fragrant Garden, 130 feet from Whitaker Street. By comparison, the Rotary playground is 122 feet from the parking lot to the east of the cafe.
Why does the Draft Master Plan include converting the perimeter sidewalk to a multi-use path for bikes and pedestrians?
In April during the Concept Design Phase of the project, the community expressed an overwhelming desire to limit bicycling in the park, particularly along the central spine where pedestrian crowds are the heaviest and where biking is already prohibited in certain areas. In addition to this feedback, the City of Savannah and SCAD both confirmed that they regularly receive complaints regarding this issue. While there are not a large number of police citations nor reports regarding collisions issued, this is more a function of lack of enforcement of the ordinance than lack of incidents with pedestrians. The community and the City have expressed a strong desire to limit bicycles on the central spine, and the Master Plan seeks to support this goal by recommending deterrents at the northern and southern entrances to the park, creating a safe alternative route around the park on the proposed multi-use path and posting of signage.
With the growing number of wheeled vehicles operating in the park be they bikes, skateboards, scooters, both manual and electric, along with the increasing number of bike tour companies occupying the sidewalks, it is clear that steps need to be taken to provide for the safety of all persons enjoying this great park. Measures proposed by the draft plan are only one part of the solution. The City is aware that a broader strategy needs to be developed that provides both for the safety of pedestrians as well as the transportation and leisure needs of cyclists. City staff will be evaluating this issue in the months to come and making a determination on other actions.
The Forsyth Park Master Plan was completed in January 2022. All questions regarding the plan should be directed to the City of Savannah Office of Marketing and Communications.