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Year brings fiber internet, new facilities, nature trail

Although it started out with destructive weather, the year 2023 brought high-speed internet access to most Pike citizens, a new Community Center and additional softball fields at the recreation department and a new nature trail at the elementary school in memory of the late Buddy Brown.

Changes at the recreation department included a new Community Center with an official ribbon cutting on Feb. 3 and a new Parks and Recreation Authority director as Ray Wilkerson took over after the resignation of former director Larry Moss. Many upgrades were made to the recreation facilities throughout the year, including the field used by the middle school baseball team as well as concrete pads covered with artificial turf for the batting cages. Members of the community helped with some of the cost and labor for those projects and at the end of the year, two new softball fields were constructed.

Buddy’s Trail at the elementary school was another new addition for the year, opening in honor of the late ‘Buddy’ Brown, a former teacher at the school. The nature trail connects to the other walkways that connect the different school campuses and Buddy’s Trail used in October as a Haunted Trail as well as being used by students, staff and community members since its creation. Initial work was done to clear the underbrush by a team of hungry goats and volunteering students and their families .
The county purchased around 256 acres for $3 million in the Zebulon city limits which will provide the space for a new jail and sheriff’s office. The land purchased includes property from Highway 18/Concord Street behind the city’s water treatment lake all the way to the south side of County Farm Road.

The county heard an ultimatum on returning funding that was donated for the creation of an animal shelter. Commissioners decided to return the $225,000 to the CLC Foundation and it was then donated to local animal rescue Coco’s Cupboard. The Animal Shelter sign on County Farm Road was changed to say Animal Control instead and the facility continues to only house dangerous or vicious animals.
Wild weather was part of the news coverage by the Journal Reporter throughout the year, including freezing conditions early in January and tornadoes midway through the month, followed by flooding and flash freezes in March.

The year 2023 started out with an arctic winter storm that left many citizens without power as they welcomed in the New Year. In mid-January, five tornados struck in northern Pike and several struck Spalding County, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake that took many months of recovery efforts on the part of the county and local citizens.

In March, a succession of days with freezing temperatures dropping into the 20s decimated the peach crops in Pike, causing Gregg Farms to close for the season instead of opening as usual in the spring. Other crops were damaged as well, including pears, pecans and others.

There were big changes for sports in Pike County as the school’s athletic teams were dropped from AAA to AA competition by the Georgia High School Association. Pike will compete as AA through the 2026 school year and will be the 15th largest team in the division out of 59 schools. Jackson will join Pike in AA while Mary Persons, Peach County and Upson-Lee will remain in AAA.

Class of 2022 graduate Madelynn Crow was named Gymnast of the Year by USA Today after she set a record by sweeping the state GHSA meet, earning all five titles with an overall score of 39.7 and a perfect 10 in three events. The middle school softball and wrestling teams earned championship titles for 2023. The PCMS softball team was undefeated in regular and post season play and outscored their opponents 154-12. Swimmer Katie Ward made PCHS history as a freshman by earning first place in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 57.12.

Some historic milestones were reached as the 50th annual Concord Country Jubilee was held and the Concord Garden Club kicked off celebrations for the group’s 100th anniversary, making it one of the longest-existing garden clubs in the country.

In criminal news in Pike, charges were filed in the death of a disabled man who lived in the basement of a home in the Whitfield Walk subdivision. The 40-year-old Dennis Robertson was handicapped and was found emaciated in the basement. His caregivers, Michael Hammond, 46, and Lauri Parker, 59, were charged with two counts felony murder, neglect to a disabled adult, false imprisonment and two counts exploitation and intimidation of disabled adult. Nearby neighbors did not know he was even living in the home.

The man who walked into the First Bank of Pike in Concord and handed the teller a note that said, “Give me the money before I shoot!!!” was sentenced to life in prison three years after the crime. Howatdrick Jamar Jones, 31, was convicted of armed robbery after the jury deliberated for just under 15 minutes.

In school administrative news, superintendent Dr. Michael Duncan retired in June after 18 years with the school system. After several months of searching, it was announced that the new superintendent will start Jan. 3 with a Meet and Greet with the community set for Thursday, Jan. 4 at the Pike Auditorium from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The school system approved a tax break for seniors in 2022 and the tax assessors office struggled to create a process to provide the tax break. Commissioners voted in July to allow citizens 70 and older who already had L4 exemption to have more time to apply for the tax break.

For most of the year, citizens were upset about proposed ordinance changes and the county held several workshops and meetings as they attempted to upgrade the county’s current zoning laws.

The county placed a moratorium on zoning changes in May and it was extended twice but will end Feb. 1 as commissioners hoped to clarify and adopt the amended changes by their Jan. 30 meeting. A workshop was held Dec. 21 as local agricultural leaders discussed needed changes.

It was a year for endings with Bubba and Friends’ raptor rehabilitation shutting its flight pens down Jan. 31 and historic local eatery Smoots Restaurant closing their doors for good in November. Ruth’s Restaurant closed their doors in December 2022 but this December, it was announced that Ryan Landry will revitalize the business and work has been ongoing inside and on the exterior since the announcement.

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