Seeing The Good In Green Spaces

By Cindy Code

When something is near and dear to your heart, almost losing it makes you appreciate it even more. That situation nearly happened with Red Maple Park in Durham, N.C.

When a storm drain under the driveway to the park collapsed in early 2014, access to the athletic and recreational green spaces was cut off, and the city was forced to shut the park.

During that time, vandals stripped the park of virtually everything of value, from grills and picnic tables to the copper piping from the restrooms, which eventually had to be torn down. This left community residents frustrated and without a place for their kids to play.

“This is a very engaged community, and when we didn’t hear much after the initial park closing, I thought it was odd,” says Rhonda Parker, director of Durham Parks & Recreation.

Parker shared this problem with the city’s Recreation Advisory Commission, and it decided to meet with community members. The commission took its August meeting outdoors to the park to get a read on the situation.

When Parker and the commission arrived, they were met by more than 50 neighborhood residents and 30-plus children on bikes who came to say they were ready to take their park back.

Parker and the commission learned that community residents were fearful of going into the park because of the gang-related crime and vandalism, and felt powerless to do much about it until this meeting was called.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but more than 80 people came out to tell us how important the park was to them and their children,” says Parker. “It was important for the commission to hear how inspired the community was to take their park back.”

Once the driveway was repaired, the community sprang into action, helping with the cleanup work and starting a petition to receive a grant for a new playground. The city replaced the picnic tables and grills, and repaired and painted the park’s shelter.

They also organized community events to get local residents to come back to the park with their families.

In November, the grant for the playground came through, and on a cold, rainy day, neighborhood residents and volunteers helped install the new playground.

What was missing was the renovation of the grass baseball and softball outfields and the clay infields. That’s where Project EverGreen’s “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.” initiative came in. The goal of the nationwide initiative is to renovate and revitalize athletic and recreational spaces in urban areas to ensure that children have access to safe green spaces.

In April 2016, green-industry volunteers excavated, graded, and replaced the infield surface with a new clay mixture; installed new sod; and also applied weed-control and fertilization treatments to the outfield turf.

The newly renovated field plays host to the city’s Long Ball baseball program and girls’ softball program, both of which involve hundreds of budding athletes who play on the field daily throughout the spring and summer.

“We have developed a gem of a field for the kids, and the park has become a nucleus for the community,” says Parker. “Having access to safe, well-maintained athletic green spaces to play on gives kids the chance to be active and involved, and that means a lot for their health and well-being.”

Parker credits the neighborhood residents, especially the senior-citizen community, who enjoyed the park with their own children in years past, for stepping up and getting the ball rolling.

“The community has sweat equity in the park’s rebirth, and that has made all the difference in the park’s transformation,” adds Parker.

Encouraging The Use of Imagination
In another example of the use of green space, Adrienne Lacy, the Southwest Community director in Ft. Worth, Texas, was looking for ideas to interest the hundreds of children who participate in the center’s summer programs. She didn’t need to search Google.

All she had to do was open the door and point to the center’s recently renovated green spaces, and the kids took it from there.

“Camp kids want to be outside, they want to be active, and are happier when they are,” says Lacy, who enters her eighth year at the park, and whose own kids participate in the center’s programs. “We have organized activities, but many times they will make up games on their own, and the green spaces allow them to do that.”

Lacy says the athletic and recreational green space at Southwest Community Center is often the only green space some of the children have access to, and that is why it is so important to have safe, playable surfaces.

The center’s ball diamond, which serves as home to more than 25 boys’ baseball and girls’ softball leagues plus local adult teams, and the surrounding green spaces, where kids can play and adults can relax, are important parts of the community.

Following the “Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids.” renovation project in the fall of 2015, Lacy and the center not only enjoyed the benefit of safer, more durable, and easier to maintain playing and recreational surfaces, but earned an additional benefit of a “come together’ green space for parents and visitors.

“The renovated green spaces behind the ball diamond became a place where parents would set their chairs and let siblings play while they watch practices and games,” says Lacy. “The green space became a gathering spot and built a spirit of togetherness we didn’t have before. All of this has made the center more attractive and valuable to the community.”

Teaching Life Lessons
A further example of this green space approach is the tagline in Austin Homan’s email signature that reads, “Better Lives, Better Community—Come Join Us.”

Homan is the athletics superintendent for the city of Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department. and was the point man for the recently completed renovation project of the playing surface at Penn-Wright Stadium in Greensboro, N.C.

The stadium is home to the city’s youth baseball program and weekend tournaments from April to October, and has a long history within Greensboro’s baseball program. With hundreds of players legging out doubles, chasing down fly balls, and fielding grounders nearly every day, the stadium’s diamond gets a workout and needed a call to the bullpen.

“Every city has to manage its financial resources closely, and the funds are not always available for ongoing maintenance and improvements to keep up with the wear and tear Penn-Wright’s field receives,” says Homan, who was a college baseball player at East Carolina University.

Project EverGreen volunteers excavated, graded, and replaced the infield surface with a new clay mixture and installed new sod that eliminated the infield lip, which caused bad hops and put players at risk of injury.

Volunteers also applied weed-control and fertilization treatments to the outfield turf and installed new plant material and trees around the stadium to add aesthetic value.

What was the project’s impact? Homan says the renovated field allows the department to continue with its mission to provide Greensboro’s youth with an outlet not only to learn a sport and be active, but to gain valuable lessons in sportsmanship, responsibility, and teamwork.

“Organized sports create opportunities for kids to be part of something, be active, and lead a healthier lifestyle, and having safe, well-maintained facilities that help us do that are vital,” says Homan.

Cindy Code is executive director of Project EverGreen. She can be reached at