By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

An incredible ride - Jeff Dunlap went from star athlete to leading a new chapter for Decatur Parks and Rec 

Jeff Dunlap won't forget his first day working for Decatur Parks and Recreation. He was a junior at Decatur High and his first assignment was to hop on a tractor and mow the fairway on No. 15 at the Point Mallard Golf Course.

"I didn't know what I was doing, but I figured it out," Dunlap said. Little did he know that his ride on that tractor in 1978 was just the start of a journey that eventually would have him leading Decatur Parks and Recreation.

Under Dunlap's leadership, Decatur has continued to offer some of the best facilities in the country for its citizens and the thousands of visitors from around the country, and even the world, who flock to the River City.

"We constantly look to the future and how we can improve and get better," Dunlap said. "Sometimes I do stop and think about what we've accomplished. It's pretty incredible."

John Godwin became friends with Dunlap the first year the baseball facilities opened at Point Mallard. "We were 13 years old and played on an expansion team (in Dixie Boys National League) that year," Godwin said. "Jeff was a new kid from the Central League. We didn't know much about him, but it didn't take long to see that he could hit the ball.

"We didn't lose a game for two seasons and Jeff was a big part of it. He was one of those guys who had all the confidence in the world that he could do anything, and he would do it."
Point Mallard with its wave pool and other swimming facilities played a big role in the friendship between Dunlap and Godwin. "We spent a lot of our summers there," Godwin said. "It was a world-class facility. There was nothing like it in the country." Dunlap starred in baseball and basketball at Decatur. He continued his baseball career playing center field for Fred Frickie at Calhoun. He later played at Columbus College in Georgia.

"While I was at Columbus, I got to play baseball against some great baseball players like Bo Jackson at Auburn and David Magadan at Alabama," Dunlap saidAfter finishing his college baseball career in 1985, Dunlap returned to Decatur and to working for Parks and Recreation. "I was 22 and lacked a few credits getting my degree," Dunlap said. "I thought I could work at Parks and Rec while I finished my degree at Athens State. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I thought I would have time to figure it out." Wayne Milligan was in charge of Parks and Recreation at the time. He put Dunlap in charge of Point Mallard.

"I told Wayne that the only thing I knew about a swimming pool was to jump in," Dunlap said. "He told me to go out there and learn about it. I've always been mechanically minded. I liked working on cars. So I learned how the wave pool works. Somehow we had it ready for opening day that year."

Dunlap stayed with Parks and Recreation until leaving to work for the Housing Authority in 1991. Eight years later he was back at Parks and Recreation to eventually become the top man.

Two major additions to the Parks and Recreation portfolio under Dunlap's leadership are the Ingalls Harbor Pavilion and the Jack Allen Soccer Complex.

Ingalls Harbor Pavilion was designed mainly as a facility to house fishing tournament weigh-ins. The garage doors at the sides of the building allow the anglers to pull their boats through the building. It has become much more of a multi-use facility. It is a popular place for banquets, receptions, proms, trade shows, etc.

The soccer facilities at Jack Allen are world famous. It features 27 acres of laser-graded and irrigated playing surfaces. Teams from outside the United States have used it as a training facility. Local, state, regional and collegiate soccer tournament keep the place busy. The USA Archery Outdoor Nationals have been held there. "The original plan for Jack Allen was to be a community recreation center with a gym and some baseball and softball fields," Godwin said. "Jeff's the one who said maybe we can turn this place into something special for our kids, but also a place that will bring in people from out of town to play here."

Years earlier, Dunlap had seen what travel baseball, softball and soccer meant to other cities. Visitors and their money were supporting recreation facilities in other places. Dunlap wanted Decatur involved.

"Being around at the start of Point Mallard made it paramount in Jeff's mind that whatever Decatur did, it had to be first class," Godwin said. "Point Mallard was built as a world class facility and he wanted the same for Ingalls Harbor and Jack Allen."

To see the impact on Decatur, take a ride down the Beltline and count the number of hotels and eating establishments that have followed the development at Ingalls Harbors and Jack Allen.

"You learn in sports that no one person is responsible for a team's success," Dunlap said. "That's why I hire the best people I can find. There are a lot of good people at Parks and Rec doing a lot of good work. It's a real team effort."

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