ALBANY — Since the time Native Americans lived in the area, Radium Springs, with its blue waters flowing to the Flint River, has been considered a magical place.
The earlier inhabitants identified the springs as Skywater, a name that has been retained for the creek that carries the water that bubbles up from the ground to its meeting with the brown waters of the nearby river.
Once the site of a casino building that was a landmark for decades, the land where the springs are situated and the nearby neighborhood have been hit by disasters over the last quarter-century, with floods in 2004 and 2008 and a 2017 tornado. The floods sealed the fate of the casino, and the tornado destroyed more nearby houses.
Dougherty County leaders have been looking to restore the luster of Radium Springs for more than a decade and are in the process of fulfilling a master plan to rehabilitate the area. This week the Dougherty County Commission got the news that the state is putting $1.5 million into the project.
The county’s master plan includes a trailhead and trail from the site of the former golf course to the spring, which eventually will connect to downtown Albany.
The state grant will include about $705,000 to restore the Spring Run Bridge, located near the confluence of Skywater Creek and the Flint River.
With lawmakers looking at steep cuts to the state budget to deal with reduced revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the closing of businesses for weeks, 2020 did not look like a good year for the project to be funded. So officials were pleasantly surprised the funds came through.
“That was some of the best news we’ve received,” Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy said. “We have obviously been working on the recovery of Radium Springs for some time now.”
Plans to restore the area date back more than a decade, but significant work has been completed at the site where the casino was demolished and at the trailhead.
“Millions of dollars in the community (were spent) to bring about recovery,” McCoy said. “One of the important projects is to rehabilitate the bridge located on property that belongs to the state.”
Several legislators visited the site and requested more information ahead of the 2020 legislative session that was suspended mid-session due to COVID-19. Lawmakers returned to finish the session in June, and local legislators, including state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims and state Reps. Winfred Dukes and Gerald Greene, backed the project.
“We put together an informational package that included a video and shared it with our state (legislative) delegation,” McCoy said. “They immediately embraced the project and committed to working as hard as they could to secure this project. We are so thankful to them for their leadership.
“That bridge is an integral part of our redevelopment pan for the Radium Springs Garden and Radium Springs (community). The funds will go toward restoring the bridge and installing a trail segment.”
While the county owns a small portion of the land in the development around the springs, the state owns the bulk of it, including the bridge, so state assistance was a good partnership, McCoy said.
Also pleasantly surprised by receiving funding in a hard budget year was Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson.
“It’s going to do a lot for that area and Radium Springs,” said Johnson, who is a member of the commission’s Recreation Committee that has been heavily involved in planning at the garden and park area.. “It opens back up that Spring Run (and) the trail going all the way down to the river, so I think it’s great.”
In addition to the restoration of an area that has been battered by Mother Nature, it also creates tourism and economic opportunities, the county commissioner said.
“Our vision for Radium Springs is to offer a good quality of housing in the Albany-Dougherty County area,” he said. “This is a good place to start in rebuilding and rebranding in Dougherty County.”
The area where the spring water and Flint meet also provides a habitat that is ideal for striped bass, Johnson said.
Commissioners also see the park and gardens as a natural fit to lure individuals looking to commune with nature as well as groups and festivals.
“It opens up the tourism, it opens up the trail,” Johnson said. “It also is going to jump-start economic development. If we can get Radium Springs back open, it’s going to support festivals and food trucks. This continues to add places in Albany, Dougherty County for people to see.
“It’s a sign of partnership and a great compliment from the state. It’s a show of faith in our area.”