Our parks need some work
I decided to write this post as a rant about the lack of quality parks near my house. It all started on Labor Day weekend. My wife and I wanted to get our three year old out of the house to help get rid of some of his three year old energy. We wanted to take him bike riding, and maybe do some swinging and playing on the jungle gym. We decided to go to a park because it would be a free way to have fun. We visited a couple of local parks, Gresham and Exchange, and neither of us was happy with what we saw. We had never been to Gresham, but we both had been to Exchange. In short, both parks failed to live up to our expectation of what a park should be. Exchange Park had half of its playground equipment unusable with two slides blocked off because of damage, and Gresham was too small to accommodate safely the number of children playing there. In fact it became clear that my three year old could not compete with the 8-10 year olds that had commandeered the play set. We left both parks, and ended up going to Georgia Perimeter and letting him ride his bike on their walking path, and playing soccer on one of their open fields. This whole experience got me to thinking are there any decent family parks in South DeKalb? The quest had started. I know of several parks in South DeKalb, though I have not been to them all, I at least knew the locations. I set out to visit some of these parks and document their strengths and weaknesses. In addition to Exchange, and Gresham, I went to Truelove (not really a park more of a softball complex), Scott(former Mark Trail), Shoal Creek, and Midway. Of those parks, only one, in my opinion, lived up to my expectation of what a park should be. A park should be aesthetically pleasing, it should provide recreational facilities that cater to many age groups, you should feel safe and comfortable, and it should be clean. Midway park was the only park that I visited that I would return to. Maybe I came at a good time, but it seems to me, if your house is unkempt, at some point is will show. Although Midway is much smaller than Gresham or Exchange, it is a better looking park when it comes to aesthetics and facility upkeep. They also do a great job keeping the park clean and useable. On my visit, trash was at a minimum, and the landscaping was neatly manicured. I went in the middle of a weekday, so there was hardly anyone there or at any of the parks I visited, but Midway impressed me a great deal. The others, to varying degrees were unacceptable. Exchange not only had broken equipment, it also had too much garbage lying around. The playground and pavilion areas are tucked away from site especially the pavilion area. One visitor I spoke to, who was there with a couple of kids, stated she would not go to the pavilion area alone with her kids. She said she sees people go to the bottom part of the park and do whatever they want. I had never gone beyond the play area, but a quick walk down to the bottom revealed an area that is tucked away and hidden from sight. If the police do not patrol, any and all things could be happening. The athletic fields are in a better spot, and do not offer the hidden spots that the playground and pavilion areas do. At Gresham, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of visitors, some of whom said they had been coming to the park since they were knee high. They all agreed that the park itself could use more equipment. They told me that the playground equipment that they brought their kids to play on was the same stuff they played on. One guy was twenty-six, and said the only change made to the park he could recall was to fence in the playground several years ago. In a bit of irony, these teens and twenty-something’s lit up their stash as I walked away. Not the environment I would bring my three year old to. The visit to N. H. Scott was more encouraging. Scott used to be Mark Trail. I knew there was a park there, but had never been into the park. It was a surprisingly large park. With several amenities including tennis courts, several basketball courts, a pool, a recreation center, ball fields and a lot of open space. I had the pleasure of talking with a park employee who had lived in the area all his life. He had used the park from the time he was able to walk. Now he worked at the park. He walked me around and pointed out the amenities, and talked about the after school programs for the kids, and the sports programs that included football, soccer and track. But the park was in a state of disrepair. Basketball goals were broken, trash littered the front of the rec center, and beer bottles and overturned trash cans were common. Inside the rec center was very clean, but it not only showed it’s age, but it revealed the level of importance placed on the people who used the center. Multi-purpose rooms with just tables and chairs, many not matching. The game room had 2 pool tables that were torn and tattered and a foosball table. All of the windows had burglar screens, even though the windows sat relatively high off the ground. To be there was depressing for me, but for the young it was a place to go a do things instead of hanging out in the streets. The staff member I talked to was proud of his park and had a genuine concern about the future of the park. When asked what the park needed, his first answer was promotion. He said that if people knew the things that the park offered, more people would come, and that would translate into a better managed park. Before I had a child, the parks were a place for me to place basketball. Before moving into South DeKalb, I visited very few parks and then only to play basketball. Now that I am older and have a toddler, I look at the park in a completely different light. The park system needs an upgrade but one that addresses existing parks better. The county, in its parks master plan wants to add more acreage to the system. From my point of view, they would get more bang for the buck if they spruced up and maintained the existing infrastructure. I do not mind driving a few miles to a great park, as opposed to walking to a mediocre or worse park.