Porterdale was one of six projects in the region, and the only one in Georgia, selected to receive federal assistance in developing a new recreational area, according to the National Park Service.
The National Park Service chose the city's project, one of six in the Southeast, to offer technical and planning assistance in building a park on 27 acres along the Yellow River.
"The key things are they've got the expertise and experience doing projects like this in the Southeast and nationwide," said Maurice Carter, chairman of Newton County Trail-Pathways Foundation. "We want to draw on that to see what makes a trail or a blue way to be successful."
Newton Trails applied for the assistance earlier this year, citing the centrality of the park to the city's future development plans, local funds and grants already set aside for the park and recent progress in concept development.
According to the National Park Service, its Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program is designed to help communities and neighborhoods preserve local natural resources, develop new river trails and greenways and conserve and create new open spaces.
"It's exciting to get that because everything we can do to move this further along will be beneficial to the city," Mayor Bobby Hamby said.
The Yellow River Park is part of an ongoing effort to turn the Yellow River into a draw for tourism.
In 2006, Newton Trails built a quarter-mile concrete loop trail north of the downtown area. Two years later, Porterdale used a Transportation Enhancements grant - a federal grant administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation - to renovate the exterior of the train depot. It also built a mulch trail from the vacant lot across from the mill on Broad Street to the loop trail.
The next step is to use another $250,000 Transportation Enhancements grant received last year to renovate the interior of the depot into a trail head rest station with benches, bike racks, water fountains and restrooms, said city manager Bob Thomson. It would also fund the construction of a quarter-mile concrete trail from Broad Street along Hemlock Street to the depot.
According to a conceptual drawing of the park, the area between downtown and the Yellow River would be converted into walking and bike trails, picnic areas, ball fields and boat ramps.
Carter said that eventually, Porterdale's trail system would be connected to a trail leading past Newton High School to Turner Lake. The city has funding, through SPLOST funds, to build part of the trail, he said.
City officials intend the access ramps to be part of a "blue way trail" - meaning a stretch of a river used for recreation such as canoes and kayaks - that makes the city an outdoors destination.
The Yellow River Park is a major component of Porterdale's economic development plan. It envisions using the river and park to draw nature-oriented recreation and tourism and lure businesses to serve those visitors.
In addition to the economic development aspect, Newton Trails sees the park as a sort of "green oasis" in an area targeted in the county's 2050 Build Out Plan to receive much of the county's anticipated growth over the next 40 years.
"Porterdale also sits within that (development) arc, but has the potential to become a green oasis within the county's developed areas," Newton Trails wrote in its application. "This project is crucial, however, to establish the foundations for a green space and parks plan to make Porterdale an outdoor recreation destination within Newton County and across the east metro region."
The National Parks Service will assist in community outreach, developing a comprehensive plan for building the park, incorporating a formal community vision for it and breaking it into phases.
The Yellow River meanders south from near Lilburn, past Conyers and Porterdale into Jackson Lake.