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 major and incremental 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because Georgia state law presently regulates changes to existing memorials related to the Civil War, the Forsyth Park Master Plan process will not make recommendations regarding the future of the Civil War Memorial in Forsyth Park. However, we have and will continue to compile all community 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 share your thoughts. All of the feedback gathered during the project will be shared with City leadership and the Civil War Memorial Task Force to support that ongoing and separate effort.
The Discovery survey results showed that the community is clearly interested in Forsyth Park hosting public art. So the master plan will look to make space for new art, whether it’s temporary or permanent. The idea for the new monument, which the design team considers public art, is to allow today’s Savannahians to honor or memorialize stories that are important to you. We realize 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.
We learned during the Discovery process that parking around the park is increasingly challenging. This difficulty of parking acts as a deterrent to some people using the park. We also heard that there is a strong desire to have food trucks and more space for gatherings and events. Design Option 1 maintains the existing location and number of parking spaces (47). Design Option 2 reimagines the location and usage options as a way to address feedback from the community. It shifts the parking away from Park Avenue and creates areas for flexible use that can accommodate food trucks, exercise classes, expanded Farmers’ Market, events, etc. When these areas are not being used for programmatic purposes, they can be used for public parking, increasing the parking available in the park from currently 47 spaces to approximately 76. This option shifts the parking away from Park Avenue so that the active recreational activities anchor the southern edge of the park. The flex/parking areas will be designed with permeable paving materials and plantings to enhance and buffer them as well as make them aesthetically pleasing. While it may appear that the addition of flex/parking space in the park reduces the amount of greenspace currently available, the spaces are located in an area not currently used due to poor drainage and grading.
The master plan is looking to find balance between the need for parking and the need to preserve and enhance recreational space. Working with City staff we have explored the surrounding area for opportunities for parking dedicated to park visitors but so far we have not identified any appropriate option.
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.
There are issues with these structures:
- Bandshell canopy blocks historic views from the fort (the Café) to the Parade Grounds (the open lawns).
- The stage and ramps to the stage create awkward and sometimes unsafe conditions in the space between the stage and the Cafe.
- The splash pad is not large or safe enough to accommodate all of the people who want to use it, and so people overflow up onto the stage, which becomes slippery when wet.
In the next design phase the master plan team will refine the plans for these areas, studying options that look to improve their function.
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:
- 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
A number of community members noted the rising popularity of pickleball. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and is appropriate for all ages. Painted lines on the existing tennis courts is an easy addition (per Design Option 2). Design Option 1 proposes new courts dedicated to pickleball.
Because the overwhelming desire of the community is to not overdevelop the park, the plans could not accommodate sand volleyball in addition to the many other activities that the community desires: playgrounds, tennis, basketball, splash pad, etc. The installation of a single sand volleyball court would not accommodate demand, and volleyball is an activity that is easy to set up and take down. The open fields already and will continue to accommodate the demand for volleyball.
We have heard the community’s desire for a fenced dog park. However, there seems to be no consensus about locating a dog park in Forsyth Park. This use typically results in large areas without groundplane vegetation (grass, perennials, etc) and can be messy and noisy. A dog park sized to meet the needs of the community could be in conflict with the overwhelming desire by the community to protect the historic and scenic quality of Forsyth Park.
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.
No, the master plan’s intention is to allow for the existing size of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market to remain, or expand as needed. For instance, in Design Option 2, the flex/parking areas are intended to be used by the farmers’ market vendors for drop-off or set-up as needed.
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. The City would fund some of the improvements and others could be funded through a partnership between private and public sources.
The Design Option phase is one month 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 feedback from the survey and five public meetings and develop a single, refined, 50% Master Plan scheduled for this summer. This draft plan will be shared with the community for feedback via a community meeting, virtual tools on the Friends of Forsyth website and social media. That community input will inform refinements to the plan which will be finalized this fall.
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. Please make your voice heard by taking the survey by April 30.
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.
- Stormwater does not drain properly in sections of the park; the park needs a plan to upgrade stormwater run-off.
- Bikes and pedestrians are constantly in conflict; the park needs a plan to separate bikes and pedestrians.
The existing location of the playgrounds is not in keeping with the historic nature of this area of the park. Playground activity is more appropriate in the southern end of the park, where other active recreation is located. The area between the Dummy Forts (Cafe and Fragrant garden) is an important threshold between the historic northern section and Forsyth Park Extension (southern/active section). The proposed location of the playgrounds is near the other active recreation. These playgrounds will be surrounded by fences per code and designed with best safety practices as well as buffered by plantings. The playgrounds (and perhaps splash pad as in Option 1) will be located adjacent to new public restrooms (and perhaps parking as in Option 2) for easy access by children and parents. If this and other proposed options are adopted in the final Master Plan, there would still be a variety of activities for children in the center of the park such as children’s and stormwater gardens, a splash pad and open lawn to play.
To help unify these areas of the park, to increase the civic nature of this space, and to encourage this area to be used by everyone (rather than only families with small children) the master plan proposes shifting the playgrounds to the south. This area can become a space surrounded by gardens where people can gather under the tree canopy. The 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 and large events.
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.
Hopefully! We are on the case.
Recordings of the public meetings have been uploaded onto Vimeo. You can find them by clicking on this link:
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:
- The first ever digital topographic survey
- A comprehensive tree survey including all of the trees in the park outlining their location, size and condition
- A comprehensive inventory of the site specifying the location and condition of all of the structures, fixtures, monuments, markers, etc.
- A historic timeline
- A lighting and maintenance plan