Oh, the good life

Story by LINDA JERKINS/Photos by JASON GETZ

Staci Reece Floreani had a few essentials in mind during house-hunting trips from Miami to Johns Creek in 2010. She wanted a home on a golf course in a safe neighborhood where her young sons, Sebastian and Oliver, could ride bikes on the sidewalks and play football in the cul-de-sac. A swim and tennis community and great neighbors were also desirable.

“When we moved in, neighbors greeted us with cookies, cakes and chocolates,” says Floreani, who owns a photography and interior design business. “Now we have cul-de-sac gatherings and a yearly Christmas party with the neighbors on my street. It feels like home.”

Johns Creek fulfilled everything on her list of must-haves.

Outside of the immediate neighborhood, Johns Creek offers Floreani and neighbors a variety of ways to connect at year-round events, including a farmers market and a fall arts festival, as well as summer movies and concerts in the park.

Beyond the events and growing dining choices, the nearly 83,000 residents appreciate the many outdoor natural and recreational spots.

The city is located in North Fulton County about 30 miles from downtown Atlanta. It was named for the creek that flows under seven roads through the center of the city.

HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS

Before it was called Johns Creek, the area drew the Cherokee and Creek Indians. In the early 1800s, the area was settled by farming families with names like McGinnis, Findley, Buice, Cowart and Medlock, which appear on street signs throughout the area.

Another important settler was John Rogers, for whom a creek and eventually a city were named. Rogers, a plantation owner, was a colleague of President Andrew Jackson and a great-great uncle to actor, cowboy and humorist Will Rogers. The house he and his wife, Sarah Cordery, built in 1804 stands today and is a private home.

More than 100 years later, the area attracted a new group of pioneers. In 1981, a group of Georgia Tech grads bought nearly 1,700 acres of rural land to transform into a high-tech office park, which began drawing companies, businesses and homebuyers, too. On Dec. 1, 2006, Johns Creek became a city.

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

Johns Creek plans to create a central business district: a walkable, mixed-use city center on 728 acres of Tech Park.

The now 1,900-acre Technology Park is the business center of Johns Creek. Tech Park, as it is casually known, is home to some of the Atlanta area’s top employers, including Macy’s Systems & Technology (1,400 jobs), State Farm (1,200 jobs) and Alcon Laboratories (1,100 jobs), as well as Emory Johns Creek Hospital (700 jobs). In all, the businesses in Tech Park employ more than 10,000 people, according to Courtney Bernardi, CEO of Johns Creek Advantage, the economic arm of the city.

ARTS AND CULTURE

Formerly known as Ocee Arts Center, Johns Creek Arts Center opened at its current location in 2008 and operates as a not-for-profit entity, independent of the city of Johns Creek.

The center prides itself on the diversity of exhibits. Earlier this year, works by African-American artists were on loan from the permanent collection of Hammonds House Museum, located in the historic West End area of Atlanta. A pencil exhibit showcased the dynamic and colorful artistry that can be derived through drawings. A pastel collection gave exposure to artists from around the state. And twice per year, a student show spotlights local artists from as young as 3 years old to age 80 or higher.

“What I love about that show is you kind of have to encourage people to participate,” says Gail Hisle, executive director. “We strongly recommend they showcase their work, and when they do, they maybe win a People’s Choice Award, or they’re family and friends come and everyone’s excited.”

The arts center also has community programs with children’s groups and senior citizens. Instructors visit, lead the participants in art projects and gift them with supplies.

A variety of summer camp sessions are held at the arts center through Aug. 7.

Johns Creek Arts Center, 6290 Abbotts Bridge Road. 770-623-8448. johnscreekarts.org

ATTRACTIONS

With year-round tennis and golf, playgrounds, four parks, scenic walking trails and shady places to stick your toes (or kayaks) in the Chattahoochee River, the city’s green spots offer many ways to get outside and play — no excuses.

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center

The 46-acre nature preserve includes two miles of woodland trails, a winding creek, animal exhibits, and a collection of 19th century farmstead buildings and artifacts from around North Fulton.

“Being a photographer, it is perfect for my photography and a relaxing walk with my children,” Floreani says.

Owned by the city and operated by a nonprofit group, the preserve also offers year-round nature, history and scout programs, plus camps and a new concert series: Autrey Mill Unplugged. The reptiles, amphibians, fish and other small animals — such as rabbits and ducks — are popular with young families.

“We are making an effort to add native species, such as corn snakes, to the animal exhibits,” says Wade Chandler, executive director. An expanded butterfly garden is coming to the nature preserve soon.

Chandler also has plans to rebuild the replica Native American hunting lodge, which was damaged by a fallen tree in February. Built of wood logs and a mud cob reinforced with river reed by Tom Blue Wolf and his crew from Earth Keepers, this type of structure was used by the Creek, Cherokee and other woodland Indians of the Southeast.

Chattahoochee River

With five locations of the National Park Service’s Chattahoochee National Recreation Area either in or immediately adjacent to Johns Creek, rafting, kayaking and fishing are popular pastimes. Four of the locations — Jones Bridge, Medlock, Abbotts Bridge and McGinnis Ferry — have boat ramps.

Newtown Park

One of the top dog parks in the country, the Newtown Dream Dog Park draws pet owners from all over the Atlanta area. It also is a destination for petless families out for some entertainment.

The park, which features artificial turf, offers separate areas for small and large dogs. For doggone fun, there are obstacles such as bridges, hoops and tunnels. In warmer weather, dogs can cool off in the sprinklers around a spraying hydrant or at the water-drinking station.

For dog lovers, there are benches, shelters and shade trees.

The can’t-miss dog park is located near the entrance to Newtown Park. The busy city park includes softball/baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts and basketball courts. But there is more, including an open-air amphitheater (home to summer concerts); a two-mile, multi-use path; picnic pavilions; and a small lake. Last year, the Johns Creek Veterans Memorial Walk was dedicated in a quiet, wooded section of the park.

Even if you don’t want to play, you can take a seat and catch the fall and spring sports seasons of baseball, soccer and lacrosse. Or drop by the dog park, like the Cardenas family occasionally does.

“We don’t have a dog,” says Estela Cardenas. “But we like to go and watch the dogs at play.”

3150 Old Alabama Road. 678-297-2662. johnscreekga.gov

FOOD AND DRINK

Whether you are a fussy foodie or grab-and-go eater, there is a restaurant to suit your celebration, your budget — or your craving.

Trattoria 141

Trattoria 141 offers premier cuisine in a hometown setting at Shops of Warsaw shopping center. Executive Chef Marc Sublette worked at Pano’s and Paul’s, as well as Pricci. The restaurant menu features succulent antipasti and pasta dishes such as veal Bolognese lasagna, roasted butternut squash ravioli and thin linguine with clams. Trattoria 141, 9810 Medlock Bridge Road, 770-497-0021. trattoria141.com

Viande Rouge

Viande Rouge is also located at Shops of Warsaw and overseen by Sublette, who imparts a French flair to his cuisine of steak Diane tournedos of filet mignon prepared with creamy porcini mushroom sauce, pates au homard sauteed lobster tails with black and white linguini, cotelettes d’agneau grilled lollipop lamb chops and much more.Viande Rouge, 9810 Medlock Bridge Road. 770-623-4959. vrsteakhouse.com

Palomilla’s Grill House

The diner atmosphere offers an authentic taste of Cuba with appetizer samplers, paella and steak dishes at economical prices. The eatery also spotlights six mojito varieties, five different margaritas and homemade sangria.Palomilla’s Grill House, 11030 Medlock Bridge Road, 678-710-8343. www.palomillasgrillhouse.com

Kathleen’s Catch

The store is perfect for fresh seafood to grill at home. The family-owned market also offers ready-to-eat lobster and shrimp rolls, plus other specialty items and meals to go. Selections include mango-crusted grouper over coconut rice, Parmesan salmon with asparagus, and swordfish over lemon caper sauce with squash and zucchini. Kathleen’s Catch, 9810 Medlock Bridge Road, 678-957-9792. www.kathleenscatch.com

insider Tips:

At Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center, look for the collection of 12 stone monkeys created by an anonymous local artist, as well as the gold mine in the middle of the preserve.

Jones Bridge spanned the Chattahoochee River from 1904 to 1922, falling into disrepair in the 1930s. Half the bridge was “stolen” in 1940. Neighbors didn’t know the workers cutting the bridge were not authorized to do so until it was too late.

What’s sold in Johns Creek

Johns Creek envelops luxury living with gated communities along golf courses and pristine yards for outdoor entertainment. Here’s a look at homes that recently sold.

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