Park opens to community acclaim

J. Scott Trubey/Staff
Kole Richardson (center), a 99 Patriots Boys soccer player from Martinez, splits three defenders during the first game at the new Blanchard Woods Park in Evans. The $5.1 million first phase opened Saturday and includes five soccer fields and a running track.

Columbia County opened its new home for youth soccer Saturday, and officials say the long-awaited Blanchard Woods Park rivals public recreation facilities across the Southeast.

The 40-acre, $5.1 million first phase of the park off Blanchard Road in Evans includes five soccer fields and an NCAA-approved cross country course.

Once the park is completed in several years, it will play host to all county recreation league soccer games and many other outdoor events.

"This park is really a fabulous facility," said county recreation manager Charlie Beale. "I think it will compete with any in the Southeast."

Plans originally called for at least 12 soccer fields at the park, but community and leisure services director Barry Smith said negotiations are under way to purchase land for six more fields.

"The best is yet to come," Mr. Smith said of the park, which was funded by special purpose local option sales tax money.

Blanchard Woods will also become the home course for the Augusta State University cross country team.

The school's athletics director, Clint Bryant, said it is his goal to hold NCAA regional and national championship tournaments at the park.

"This is a tremendous, tremendous feather in the cap of this community," he said.

Commissioner Lee Anderson said Blanchard Woods will be a place where children will learn character and sportsmanship.

"There will be a lot of great children molded here on these fields," Mr. Anderson said.

Kaitlin Michals, a 13-year-old Patriots soccer club player who will have her first opportunity to test the new fields today, said she is excited about the new park.

"I like it. I think it's better than Patriots Park," she said. "I think it will improve (soccer in the county) and get people to join soccer clubs."

Reach J. Scott Trubey at 706-868-1222, ext. 109, or jeffery.trubey@augustachronicle.com.