As part of city efforts to enhance recreational assets for growth and tourism, Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud has asked for help from the National Park Service.
This past week, Josh Tuck, with the NPS’ Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, spent two days touring the city’s park and potential park areas and seeking information from residents on improvements they would like to see.
“We reached out to him,” Stroud said, “to tie in with the Orion Group.” That’s the group that is compiling a comprehensive plan for the city.
The RCTA program works with government groups, non-profit organizations, community groups to help create parks, develop trails and greenways, protect rivers and natural areas, and increase access to recreation opportunities.
“We work completely outside the Park Service,” Tuck said. “We work with biking, recreation and conservation at the city level.”
Tuck, who lives in Atlanta, has worked with a variety of groups to create and facilitate plans and build partnerships in other states.
Before leaving Friday, he shared observations about what he saw here and then asked for some specific suggestions from those present.
One of those there was Bob Barber, who leads the group putting together New Albany Next, the comprehensive plan to be presented next month.
Tuck said he had read the plan and it addresses many of the concerns he is interested in.
“All we were doing was responding to the energy in the community,” Barber said.
“Orion has done a fantastic job of putting a plan in place for years to come,” Tuck said.
Tuck began his presentation talking about the town’s DNA, and what favorite parts of the city are. That included the river, friendly people, its location, history, small town feel and affordability.
He identified four specific areas to work on.
One is the area containing the Park Along the River, the river itself, Tallahatchie Trails and the tennis complex.
Another is the old Wilson Street Park where the community center is off Central Avenue.
The third was the area containing B. F. Ford School and Shady Dell Park.
Last was the old park area on the north side of town between Alabama and Broad streets.
While much as been done with the river park area, it was noted that it still suffers from flooding, water pooling, erosion, a stage with limited usability, limited parking and accessibility problems for the able-bodies as well as the handicapped.
He said the future of the Wilson Street park is being written now with the renovation of the community center and plans to add landscaping and more public areas.
The Ford-Shady Dell area is more problematic in that it sees limited use, the park is “tucked away” and has been subject to vandalism in the past.
As for Alabama Street, he said he understands the neighbors have not welcomed suggestions concerning bringing the park back because of drug and noise problems in the past. However, it could be tied with the section of North Street that is now closed and leads to the old bridge, which could be used as a bike path and also relate to the river.
Tuck asked the group to analyze the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and possible results for each of the four study areas.
While the park area is situated downtown, is large, has recreation possibilities and contains what is called a “bottomland hardwood area,” called rare for a downtown area, the group had suggestions.
They want the playground updated, want the Camp Creek area cleaned up and made safe for a play area for children, want it to have more environmental education information, better lighting, accessibility and possibly some fitness equipment. A maintenance and management plan is needed and the area could benefit from a camping area for recreational vehicles owned by those who go from trails and parks to other areas.
Those present pointed out that the Wilson Street area is centrally located, historic, not flood-prone, multi-cultural, used by different age groups, tied to fond memories and will be an affordable event option.
Possible improvements include the addition of a skate park, exercise equipment, stage area, better lighting, landscaping and, once again, a public pool facility.
Tuck noted that it would be fairly easy to connect the area to the nearby Tanglefoot Trail, and also suggested that the city consider naming parks for people such as William Faulkner and Sam Mosley (the remnants of a small park beside the fairgrounds was designated as Faulkner Park in the past but has been more or less eaten away by adjacent development).
The B. F. Ford area drew quite a bit of discussion, partly because of the emotional enthusiasm of Cheryl Davis, who is the granddaughter of school namesake B. F. Ford.
She said her grandfather’s philosophy was “Education for everyone,” and she would like to see the old school once again used entirely for education. The New Albany Boys and Girls Club meets in the gym and the Head Start program uses part of the main building, but most is used for storage or maintenance.
The Shady Dell area once included a football field for the school as well as a pool, which was eventually filled in.
There was a time when the park, due to its isolation and lack of lighting, was an area where drugs and other activity were a problem, but she said the park has been improved and is much better now.
One goal for the area would be to find a way to make all these areas function as a whole.
Suggestions included finding a way to give the area a new identity or brand, using part of the school as a business incubator, converting part to senior living, teaching technology, and serving as temporary housing for volunteers who are only here for a limited time.
Although many people don’t realize it, and the reason for it is not clear, the school property is owned by the City of New Albany, not the New Albany Municipal Separate School District.
While Tuck will work on a master park plan, the success of it will still ultimately depend on what people here do with it.
As Davis quoted her grandfather, “If you’re looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.”
His program does not provide funds, but he said he can help in trying to find financial support.
Tuck said he will spend much of his time between now and October working on plans for the areas mentioned and working with Barber and the Orion Group concerning their plans. A focus will be on accessibility and connectivity. He was not sure when will be back.
Those attending the presentation were a variety of people from civic and community groups. The only city representatives who attended were Ward One Alderman Amy Livingston, Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson and Community Development Director Stroud.
Community Development, comprehensive plan, National Park Service, New Albany, Union County