Parks committee goal: Get every park a ‘friends’ group

Community members, park advocates and Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) members are teaming up to elevate public parks and green spaces throughout Riverside and Avondale.

 Some parks, such as Boone Park South and Memorial Park in Five Points, already have ‘Friends’ groups that lovingly care for, clean up and reforest them, while many other parks – especially the small, “pocket” parks — have not yet had the same level of community engagement. Pamela Telis, founder of Friends of Boone Park South, hopes to help change that. She is joining with Kim Clontz, as co-chairs of RAP’s new parks committee. 

 There are more than 400 parks in Jacksonville, according to the City of Jacksonville’s parks department, and Clontz said 26 of those are within the Riverside-Avondale District. They measure from a tenth of an acre up to 26 acres, and some of them have active corps of recognized volunteers while others do not. In some cases, there are volunteers that haven’t been officially recognized. A recently released RAP study, authored by members, looked at how to encourage volunteerism in the parks in partnership with the city.

Telis, who lives across from Boone Park South, is very active in helping to maintain and enhance the park with new trees. She wants to make it possible for others to do the same.

“The city has over 400 parks,” she said. “They can’t do it all with their funding and staff. I started looking into other cities with friends of parks (groups) and realized that we need to create resident-based support for our local parks if we want them to be better supported and maintained.” 

During meetings with RAP members, Telis said she realized more vision was needed regarding the parks in the area. “We saw the opportunity to think in a much bigger way about all of our parks,” she said. “I thought, why don’t we get together once or twice a year and share thoughts, resources, solutions, volunteers and tools. I thought, it would be more efficient if we could work together. That was my ultimate goal.” Telis said she would like the park committee to emphasize the pocket parks, the little bits of earth that add value and enjoyment throughout the neighborhood.

“I think our little small pocket parks are the total gems of the neighborhood. They are a gem, a brilliant idea,” Telis said. “They are just such special places. I think with a little bit of love they could be even better – some flowers, some benches, making sure they are maintained, making sure the garbage is addressed.” She pointed to Stone Park on Lechlade Street, an oval park surrounded by bungalows and now the site of a community garden. 

“The community said, ‘wouldn’t it be fun if we had a community garden?’ And the city said ‘no, we already have one on Park street, use that one.’ But they persevered, and I am proud of them. It is right in their front yards, and they have 12 raised beds. They have a water spigot. I can just picture on a wonderful September evening, people looking out and seeing a neighbor, grabbing a little glass of wine … that is a perfect example of bringing people together in a small neighborhood.” 

She also pointed to Yacht Basin park, where the married couple known for their striking murals, Kate and Kenny Rouh of RouxArt, used to live and do mosaic work. There’s a koi pond now, she said, and the space is charming. There’s also Native Park #1, filled with all-native plants, labeled with their names. Telis also wants to bring awareness to the multitude of plaques throughout the parks that commemorate past residents.

Clontz, who started the nonprofit Friends of Jacksonville Playgrounds, is working on implementing the parks committee ideas, and making it easier to form friends’ groups. She said the reason there are so few friends of parks groups is because there had been a requirement that the groups carry insurance.

“We are trying to re-establish that connection so people in the city know that there is an active volunteer group,” Clontz said noting that one roadblock to the plan is the city’s requirement that friends groups hold insurance. “If someone wants to help out a park, nobody wants to get insurance,” she said.

Clontz has been in touch with Daryl Joseph, director of the City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, and District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor about the problem. “We told them here’s the holdup. This is why the friends groups aren’t moving forward, because no one wants to be responsible for monthly insurance premiums. Daryl said by June 1 he would get with risk management to see how we can adjust this.”

 Clontz also said the eventual goal will be to get every park a friends’ group, even if the group is composed of just one or two people for the smaller parks. 

“It’s kind of on hold until June 1,” she said.

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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