Neighborhood parks get helping hands from community

Neighborhood parks get helping hands from community
Betsy Gaines is one of many dog lovers who have enjoyed the John Gorrie Dog Park since it opened nearly a year ago. With Gaines are Flash, Stupie, Dexter and Ethel, not shown.

With more than 400 parks and recreational sites under its supervision, the City of Jacksonville often welcomes a helping hand in the form of a public-private partnership to help maintain any given park.

“Jacksonville’s park system is a unique treasure given its size and diversity, and we are fortunate to have community partners who recognize the positive impact our parks have on our quality of life,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Managing more than 400 parks requires a great deal of resources and funding. Public-private partnerships boost our capacity to maintain and improve our local parks, and broaden the programming and amenities we are able to offer Jacksonville residents and visitors.”

Riverside Park gets a friend

In response to a Florida Times-Union editorial in February, which stated that Riverside Park was neglected and it was time to establish a “Friends of Riverside Park,” Riverside resident Cathleen Murphy did just that.

Murphy started the group in late February to address issues such as an algae- and trash-filled pond, the lack of grass, and graffiti on the playground equipment.

The growth in the pond was so pervasive earlier in the year it began killing the waterfowl. Two days after the new Friends group posted a photo of two ducklings swimming in the pond, the lifeless bodies were seen floating in thick green scum.

The City responded by repairing the pond’s aerators and putting a request for two more into the 2017-2018 budget. The pond was last drained and cleaned over 10 years ago.

“It’s time to revive this historic park – the second oldest in the city – and make Riverside Park a destination and the pride of Jacksonville once again,” said Murphy. “We are working with the City to look at viable options for cleaning the Duck Pond.” 

With over 11 acres, two playgrounds, and basketball courts, Riverside Park is the perfect place for a pickup game of football, soccer or basketball, said Murphy.

Learn more by liking the Friends of Riverside Park Facebook page and stay up to date with news and events. A park cleanup is being planned for September 9, 9-11 a.m. Gloves and bags will be provided and volunteers are encouraged to bring water, sunscreen and bug spray.

Dog park seeking volunteers

Shortly after its Sept. 17, 2016 grand opening, the John Gorrie Dog Park at Riverside Park gained a “friends of” group to help the City maintain basic needs, such as waste disposal bags, and to inform the City when the water fountains were not functioning.

Now, approaching the first anniversary of the specialty park, maintenance has been sidetracked and, to add to the issue of keeping the grounds pet-friendly, the Florida Department of Transportation has temporarily taken over a portion of the Large Dog section of the park for the duration of the I-10/I-95 project.

Although nearly 750 people have “liked” and follow the dog park’s Facebook page, just a dozen showed up at a July 15 meeting hosted by Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) to discuss both short- and long-term needs for the popular pet park.

Three in attendance – Jeannette Yacuub, Doug Keeling and Brooks Andrews – indicated an interest in taking a lead role in addressing the park’s needs, which include keeping the pavers clean, picking up trash, looking for and reporting unlocked gates, loose fencing, and landscaping needs, among others.

RAP Board Chair Keith Holt said long-term needs include a storage shed, an informational kiosk to alert park users to clean-up days, alternative ground material for the Large Dog section, and fundraising strategies.

Keeling, owner of Bad to the Bone Pet Care, offered to supply the waste bags, while Yacuub stated that some businesses have indicated an interest in providing services, such as spraying for bugs.

The day after the meeting, Holt and Jack Bobeck, owner of Happy Hound Dog Resorts, power washed the pavers.

Murray Hill playground stalled

The push for a playground in Murray Hill is in a temporary stall as the City of Jacksonville’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department determines where to install the playground.

Originally, park proponents asked for the small playground to be located in the southeast corner of Four Corners Park, in safe walking distance to many homes in the area.

Although the City had only received one complaint – over parking concerns – in June, they decided to “pull back” on the project for now and are considering an alternate location, Herbert Bayer Park behind the Murray Hill Arts Center, said Candace White, organizer of the effort. 

“The majority of folks who support the playground idea agree that Four Corners Park has ample parking and feel that walking will be the primary method of transportation for reaching the playground,” she said. “Additionally, the small parking area at Herbert Bayer Park is used by patrons of the Arts Center and this location has far less on-street parking compared to Four Corners Park.”

At the suggestion of District 14 Councilman Jim Love’s office, White circulated information about an online petition to garner support for the playground. To date she has more than 150 supporters.

“I can honestly say that I have only heard of three people who do not support the playground idea,” said White, indicating one person was worried the playground would attract drive-by shootings.

“That is absurd. While I agree that in the first few weeks the new playground will attract more traffic than usual, I am confident that this will not continue and people will not drive from miles away to use this playground that is very conservative in size,” said White. “I think the best benefit is that parents and grandparents can let their children play while they walk around the park. It will help everyone in our community stay active and get to know each other, which should actually help prevent crime long-term.”

Water accessibility underway

In other park news, construction is underway along the Northbank Riverwalk for a handicap-accessible kayak launch at the Sidney Gefen Park in Brooklyn.

The wooden footbridge has been removed and the $205,000 project is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2017, according to Tia Ford, City spokesperson.

The footbridge, which had deteriorated over the past 15 years, will be replaced by a path along the north shore on an inlet, connecting to a nearby paved walkway, with a spur leading to the kayak launch spot. Hager Construction Co., which created the John Gorrie Dog Park in Riverside Park, is the contractor on this project.

In addition, Parks and Recreation is beginning the design process for the ADA kayak launch area on the Southbank Riverwalk, near the Duval County School Board building on Prudential Drive.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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