Every Park is More Than Just a Park
“Parks, in my estimation, are sacred places, whether they are natural, set aside, or designed and developed for mankind’s highest pursuit: recreation-- mentally, spiritually, and physically. They conserve and preserve the best in us.” – James McClelland, past director of the Huntington Park District
I want to talk about the value of parks and what they mean to a community. I think about Ritter Park, a 55-acre park in Huntington, West Virginia, as a great example of how a park can be transformed, upgraded, and architecturally designed to benefit and bring value to all members the population – from young to old. It had been a space that long-needed attention and it was because of a visionary Park Director and community support that it was transformed into a jewel for the city. I was fortunate to work for the Huntington Park and Recreation District (HPRD) many years ago and witnessed first-hand how a community can come together to make an award-winning park and reap the rewards of that investment in their community.
Ritter Park has tennis courts, an award-winning rose garden, walking/running paths, a children’s play area, and a beautiful outdoor amphitheater. I managed most of these facilities, and when the amphitheater held events (which was all the time), I operated a popular and profitable concession stand. The amphitheater booked many types of live entertainment, and the City of Huntington (population nearly 50,00 residents), benefitted from those who came to see the entertainment and thus spent money in local hotels and restaurants, as well as on their tickets to the venue.
Similarly, Red Bank, Tennessee, has a marvelous opportunity to transform the former high/middle school property at 3715 Dayton Boulevard into our very own Red Bank Central Park attraction the community will use and spend money to support. Although a 12-acre space cannot accommodate all the same attractions as Ritter Park, it can create numerous desired features such as an amphitheater, walking paths, a nature area, a picnic place, and even a recreational soccer field.
It is not assured that Red Bank Central Park will become a park, or remain green space, or even remain public space of any type. There are those who would prefer that it be sold for commercial development with houses/apartments and some retail space. Despite there being numerous other options for retail development amongst the empty storefronts on Dayton Blvd, some in the community would prefer concrete parking lots to the beauty of a park that could become the center of many family- and community-oriented events. Once you abandon a greenspace such as Central Park to be turned over to developers, you cannot get it back. Red Bank would look just like any other small town, with row upon row of strip malls down the main drag.
It is understandable that Red Bank residents would want to know the benefits of maintaining and enhancing the park. Here are just a few:
A well-maintained park increases the value of the homes and businesses nearby.
Parks provide a therapeutic aspect to our lives. A leisurely walk in a park allows us to “blow off steam” and contributes positively to our health.
A satisfying leisure activity contributes significantly to life satisfaction.
Parks provide a community gathering spot where residents come together for important events.
Parks provide not only shade from established trees and structures, but the lawns and grasses reduce the ambient temperature on our hot and humid days.
We can all attest to the joy of flying a kite, tossing around a frisbee, having a picnic, or just greeting a neighbor as you stroll through a park. Citizens of Red Bank, please don’t let the opportunity to enhance our community slip through our hands; hold on to our Central Park and invest in the future of our city by letting it be known that you want the property to be redesigned, enhanced, and beautified for us now, and for future generations.