Parks repurposed to cut costs, serve community

By John Hamlin
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

With warmer temperatures and sunnier skies, Durham residents are heading outside to enjoy the onset of spring. As they flock to the local parks, some may be surprised to find their playground gone.

Little Taylor swings high with a helpful push at Rocky Creek Park. She and three friends were cutting through the park to get home when they decided to stop and play. (Staff photo by John Hamlin)

In 2010, the city told the Durham Parks and Recreation Department to cut costs, said Beth Timson, assistant director of park planning. “One of the things they stressed to us was ‘There are parks in the system we don’t think get much use and there are parks in the system that could perhaps reduce our operations cost,’” Timson said. “So we figured out the methodology to find out if this is true or not.”

Of the 14 parks under review for their low usage, three are located in Northeast Central Durham. Based on research and funding, there are no plans to alter Oakwood Park, but Rocky Creek may be improved in the future and Drew/Granby could lose its playground.

Larry Moore, who lives next to Drew/Granby, was upset by the news. “It’s a historic spot. It’s been there for years. Why should they try to shut it down? Because we’re in the corner? Because we’re in the hood?”

Moore and his neighbor William Johnson disagree with the department’s conclusions about usage, saying children frequent the park. “Sometimes you’ll come down and think you’re at the state fair or something,” Johnson said.

Timson said she encouraged people to contact her with feedback on the plan, and said the department used established methods of observation to measure park usage. “It’s interesting because we talked to some neighbors who said that nobody ever used [Drew/Granby] park,” she said.

Removing the park’s playground would cost about $3,000 and save Durham about $600 annually in repair and mowing costs, according to a presentation made to the Durham City Council. Timson said there are still many decisions to be made before the equipment is removed.

The Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood upgraded Oakwood Park with community gardens after adopting it. (Staff photo by John Hamlin)

The plan recommends future improvements to increase use of Rocky Creek Park. “We’re hoping at some point to have it as an urban trail corridor that goes right beside that park, along the creek,” Timson said. “And I think if there were more facilities for some older kids there, that would help.”

But the department can only plan improvements to parks like Rocky Creek and wait for economy to turn around, Timson said. “There’s no new money in park projects,” she said. “The stuff that we’re building is finishing up money from several years ago.”

Oakwood Park now relies on the community for support. The Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood recently adopted the park, painting play equipment, putting in flowerbeds and setting up an information kiosk. “If a neighborhood group wants to adopt a park, they come in, they fill out the paperwork, they agree to do a certain number of cleanups per year, and then they can get permission to do improvements on the park,” Timson said.

Adults relaxing in the Oakwood Park gazebo said that the community needs the park, but that it’s underused and could use some upgrades. “Most parks around here have a little more play area and they also have grills and a place to sit down and eat,” nursing student Sharon Morehead said. “If you were going to make an event here, you’d have this gazebo area, but not much else.”

The city did consider closing some parks, but Timson said the decision to repurpose the land instead saves money and keeps the land public. That way, people can continue to use the parks as open spaces for now and, once funding increases, the department can modify the parks to better meet community needs.

Contact Beth Timson with feedback on the plan.

View Northeast Central Durham Parks in a larger map