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October 10, 2007

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Area residents shared ideas for a revamped, revived J. Frank Wilson Park at a community meeting Tuesday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

The group listened to a presentation on the park from Kimberly L. Rennick, a certified landscape architect with the Blacksburg firm of Anderson and Associates, which has been hired to develop a concept plan for the park.

She explained that there are many things about the park that make it unique, including its size, location and sloping topography.

She did not rule out any suggestions, but she told the crowd of about 25 that the topography of the park would make things such as ballfields, that take large amounts of flat space, expensive because of the grading and filling required. She also pointed out that a stream that runs through the park must be considered.

Rennick gave examples of amenities at successful parks around the country, ranging from walking trails to butterfly gardens.

Following her presentation, most of those at the meeting split into small groups to brainstorm on ideas for the park. A spokesman from each of the group then spoke about its ideas.

Suggestions tended to focus on preserving the natural beauty of the park and not on providing spaces for team sports, which are available elsewhere, several people pointed out. There were common suggestions, such as an amphitheater, walking trails, children's play areas and spaces for BMX (bicycle motocross) riding, as well as replacing the seldom-used tennis court with a skateboarding area.

Andy Devault said a flat area near the Church Street side would be good for events such as TGIF, an uptown concert series. He also said his group was in agreement that some type of walking trail should be included.

Devault, like many of the groups' spokesmen, said his group thought some of the park's stone shelters should be kept. However, he said the area around the tennis court should be replaced with a skate park to serve younger residents.
"There's one in every town," Devault said, adding that his group thought it is important to provide that kind of thing for young people. He also suggested a BMX track.

Another woman who spoke said the park should have a "back to nature" feel. Her group suggested such things as a nature trail with signs that identify local flora and fauna, birdhouses, plantings to attract birds and butterflies and an amphitheater.

Angela Morris agreed that it is important to "keep it very natural."

Other suggestions included more entrances and exits and a trolley system to make the park more accessible to the disabled. One person suggested a "spray garden," an area that periodically sprays jets of water, to attract children.
Chris Koumparakis of Ridgeway said the simpler the park is kept, the better it will be, and the park should work with the nearby museum, YMCA and churches. He said the city will have to close Oakdale Street, which runs between the YMCA and the museum and the park, and perhaps even buy the houses there to do so.
Lois Christensen, executive director of Gateway Streetscape Foundation, said her group's suggestions included upgrading the bathrooms. She agreed there should be an area for bicycles and that the tennis court should be replaced with a skateboard park. Skateboarding would help attract young people to the area, she said.

"A lot of great ideas" were presented at the meeting, Rennick said, adding that her firm will take them into account when working on its plan.

A second public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the museum to gather more public input.

Tim Gette, executive director of the museum and chairman of the steering committee for the park improvement project, said he was happy with the public input at the meeting. He said he was pleased that there were several common ideas, such as the amphitheater and walking trails. The committee's goal is to make the park a community-oriented place that offers something for all age groups, he said.

Before the public hearing, the steering committee met at the museum. Members heard a version of Rennick's presentation and discussed possible ideas for the park. Some of them were similar to the ones the public later volunteered, such as a nature walk with signs identifying plants and trees and an amphitheater.

Committee members also discussed steering development away from the steeper, more residential Hope Street side and closing the middle section of Oakdale Street to traffic to make the park safer for pedestrians. Members said the museum, YMCA and local churches could help provide parking during events.
Rennick told the committee that providing more vehicular access to the park also should be considered.

She also told the committee the layout of the site lends itself to an amphitheater. Janette Brown, a department coordinator for Anderson and Associates, said the park and the stream running through it provide a "perfect opportunity" for outdoor classes on nature connected to the museum.

Board members also seemed to agree with Rennick's assertion that adding ballfields at the park would take too much space and expense. Gette said the question boils down to whether residents want to preserve the natural beauty and "stately trees" or go in with a bulldozer and "flatten it all out."

Committee member Bill Moore said he supports the idea of keeping as much of the natural beauty of the park as possible.

Committee member Peter Calvert, executive director of Piedmont Arts Association, agreed with others that bringing more activity to the park would make it a safer, more family friendly place.

He said he encourages residents to give their input on what they want to see at the park at the upcoming meeting.

The steering committee also discussed the results of a Martinsville Bulletin online poll on the park in which 15,000 votes were cast. In the poll, more than 8,000 votes were cast to remove the basketball courts and almost 7,000 votes were cast for totally revamping the park. Board members agreed that removing the basketball courts could free space that could be better used.