Portsmouth Parks and Recreation Ain’t All Fun and Games
There are 14 parks in Portsmouth, three of which have been the subject of contention. One of those issues was resolved at Monday night’s Portsmouth City Manager’s meeting. It remains to be seen how the other two parks will be managed moving forward. Let’s break down the issues and the proposed resolutions.
On the riverfront is York Park. During an exclusive conversation with Betty Smith of SCDN, Joseph Pratt of Main Street Portsmouth talked about the problems with the playground equipment, the anonymous donor, and the other equipment that has been ordered. Visit our Facebook page and enter #SCDNlive to catch a glimpse of that discussion and our other live streams.
Currently, Main Street Portsmouth is asking the city for $25,000. The proposal is aimed at matching a pledge from an anonymous donor to be used toward enhancing York Park’s playground. According to Pratt, the sense of urgency is literally at your feet. Around the playground, the rubberized padding on the ground has begun to wear away. At this point, he estimates that 90% of the soft ground cover can still be saved. But the 10% of the surface that is damaged is allowing water to seep underneath the surface. Pratt stressed that the continuous freezing and thawing caused by the coming winter may, potentially, damage the site so much that it will be beyond repair.
Pratt stated in a brief statement to the council Monday night, “If we don’t do this now, all we are doing is hurting ourselves” 2nd ward council member, Charlotte Gordon, said “It’s important to look at all of our parks. But, it starts with one park at a time”
In regards to Mound Park, there are two opposing viewpoints. In simplest terms, one is long-term and the other short-term. The long-term plan is grandiose, but that’s all. No definite plan has been developed. According to 5th Ward councilman Edwin Martell “We’re trying to put together a group of enough people that know enough people to be able to something about Mound Park. It’s going to be pretty costly.”
This second approach is more immediate. Those who have echoed the plan say it will cost the city little or nothing. It is not the freezing and thawing that is making them so anxious, but rather injuries and potential lawsuits. Mound Park is the largest and busiest park in the city. There are dilapidated picnic shelters and a dangerous playground. In fact, the playground has been closed by the city. However, that has not been a deterrent to children, teens, and adults using the playground area.
Mound Park Neighborhood Watch co-founder, Karen Hill spoke to the council and said, “We want it gone.” Previous discussions concerning Mound Park have largely centered around the cost of having an archaeologist on-site during any type of construction. To answer that Hill said, “We don’t really have to dig to get people to come and get this wood.”
Nostalgia and Pride
The nostalgia and pride involved in building that playground still remain in the minds of many. At the time, there were hundreds of volunteers involved in this project. It was a beautiful project. One of those volunteers told SCDN, “I was honored to be there. It was hot and the work was hard. Each morning I woke up sore but eager to get back to work.” In a moment of candor, the volunteer made an interesting point. They said, “We bought a new car right off Glockner’s showroom floor that same summer. It was wonderful and we loved it but we don’t still have it. It would be falling apart and not safe for anyone to drive today.” Another local resident told us, “I helped build that thing but will not let my grandkids play there now.”
Gary Jenkins, a candidate for the 3rd Ward, issued a public statement that read, in part. “After years of neglect, it isn’t a safe place for the city’s children to play anymore.” He continued by stating, ” We should remove this hazard until the city is able to replace it. Nothing at all is better and safer than the dangerous structure that is currently in place.” Karen Hill said directly to the council “We want it gone.”
Reclaimed wood is desirable for various projects, and the price of lumber is on the rise. Therefore, one would expect significant interest from contractors and hobbyists alike to incorporate reclaimed wood in their projects.
In her closing remarks regarding Mound Park and the Neighborhood Watch program, Hill asked the council, “We were promised cameras. What happened to our cameras”? She did not hold back and continued with, “Why is our park not being utilized like Tracy Park? We have the largest park in the city. We want our park utilized”. With regards to the Neighborhood Watch Program, she noted that they no longer have the two liaisons from the police department. They were reassigned and have not since been replaced.
Who Got Money?
At the beginning of the article, we said that one issue with a local park has been resolved. After a brief discussion in the city manager’s meeting, Mckinley Pool got $400,000 from the city and $400,000 from a state grant for a total of $800,000 in April of 2022. This grant is a reimbursement. So the city must front a total of $800,000 of which half will be returned. This passed unanimously.
To recap, $25,000 for York Park to match a pledge from a citizen and receive, according to Main Street Portsmouth, $80,000 in playground equipment is still up for discussion. The plan to remove the unsafe equipment at Mound Park, with a current price tag of zero dollars, has not been officially entertained by the council even as the citizens have said “Nothing is better than something that is dangerous”. The City has happily committed $800,000 to obtain a grant for maintenance at McKinley pool.