Sheltering from the rain at Anniston Country Club for a meeting that was to have taken place at Hamilton Park, about 21 residents, city staffers and three members of the Anniston City Council discussed improvements to that park in particular, and Anniston’s approach to recreation in general.
Anniston Parks and Recreation Director Steven Folks told those gathered that of the city’s 25 parks fewer than half are used to their potential. The city needs to look at consolidating, he said. The city could sell some of the park property — Tyler Park for instance — and use the money to upgrade another park, Folks said.
“It doesn’t make sense to take care of things if we’re really not going to use them,” Folks said.
The city's most-used parks, he said later, include LaGarde, Hamilton, Zinn, Nettles, Cooper, Randolph Park and Pelham Heights Park, which is on Weaver Cave Road in north Anniston. Parks attached to community centers are also popular, he said.
Folks named Tyler Park, situated in the shadow of Regional Medical Center, as one that is less used.
The problem of lightly used parks is caused by the city’s declining population — the city has a park system to accommodate a population of 43,000, Folks said.
“When I took over Parks and Recreation in 2007, the challenge that I had was quantity versus quality,” Folks said. “We had a whole lot of stuff, but I don’t think it was quality stuff.”
In 2007, none of the city’s parks met national safety standards, he said. Folks has been working to provide the best quality the city can afford and to make the parks and community centers safe places for area residents to use, he said.
The city is set to work on Hamilton Park now to address safety issues, Folks said.
And that is why the council members called the neighborhood meeting, said Councilwoman Millie Harris.
“This park is used by a lot of different people,” Harris said. “What we really need is your ideas.”
Hamilton Park at Seventh Street and Jefferson Avenue is one of the more popular parks in the city, Folks said.
Residents at the meeting were quick to offer their visions of the park.
Whit Welch, whose home adjoins the park, said he would like to see better fencing.
“The big thing we’re concerned with is safety at the park,” Welch said. “It’s easy for kids to run out of the park into the road because it’s just a little split rail fence, basically.”
Quite a few residents mentioned speeding cars as an issue. Welch’s wife, who declined to give her name, said she would like to have speed bumps installed on Jefferson Avenue near the park.
Councilman Jay Jenkins said the problem with speed bumps is the liability they cause the city. Although signs warn of the speed bumps, some drivers hit the bumps too hard and damage their vehicles, Jenkins said.
“They still sue the city and the insurance company still pays them and raises the insurance rate on the city,” Jenkins said.
He suggested adding stop signs along the street to force people to slow down. Posting police officers near the new stop signs should spread the word quickly that the stop signs are there, Jenkins said.
Other residents suggested upgrading the equipment at the playground, such as by replacing sand with the type of rubberized surface used at Zinn Park and upgrading the playground equipment.
Sarah Ballard, who lives next to the park, would like to see some equipment for young teens at the park.
Hilda Hudson, whose children are grown, would like to see some upgraded equipment for young children.
“I think that’s an important thing to draw young people to the neighborhood,” Hudson said.
While Folks said there is no money in the budget for the upgrades right now, the safety issues such as the fencing will be addressed as soon as possible.
“That needs to be done right away,” Folks said. “We have to address safety issues no matter what.”
The other suggestions will be used to create the plan for the park to be put into motion when the funding is available, he said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.