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Space for people and dogs formally opens at Cahulga Creek Park

Cahulga Creek Park

A production crew from the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama is shown filming at Cahulga Creek Park in Heflin Wednesday for the opening of new recreation space there.

HEFLIN About a dozen or so people and five dogs participated in a virtual ribbon cutting for the new sacred space and dog park at Cahulga Creek Park on Wednesday morning.

The city received a $10,000 Open Spaces, Sacred Places grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama to build the restorative area located at the entrance of the park.

The Community Foundation has made 15 grants in the nine-county area the foundation serves to build sacred places which are intended for the encouragement of community well-being, and resilience of mind/body/spirit of both individuals and communities.

Tammy Perry, Heflin parks and recreation director, said that due to COVID-19, an in-person ribbon cutting will be held at a later date.

The virtual ribbon cutting was filmed by a production crew working with the community foundation and included interviews with “firesouls” who are a lead person or persons passionate about the project and will see it through completion.

A drone buzzed overhead filming activity in the dog park as dogs and their owners frolicked in the enclosure.

In addition to the dog park a decorative bench had been installed overlooking the watershed to enable visitors to more easily reflect and enjoy nature. The bench has a waterproof slot with a journal so people can record their thoughts and other musings. A little library has been constructed on the adjoining stone pathway to offer patrons of the park an option to read a book.

Mitchell Rogers, director of scholarships, partnerships and operations with the Community Foundation, said the idea for the sacred places originated from Jennifer Maddox, the foundation’s president and CEO.

“Now to actually see it from paper to in-person is unique, it’s healing especially during the times we’re in with COVID and not being in nature as often,” said Rogers.

Rogers said the grant also honors Susie Parker Stringfellow.

“Without her gift back in 1920 we wouldn’t be here today, so her legacy is preserved and immortalized with her placard and her story,” said Rogers.

The dog park has a sign bearing an image of Susie Parker Stringfellow and a description of her legacy, as well as the inscription, “The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”

Stringfellow left her mark in the Anniston area when she died in 1920 and bequeathed her home and eight acres of land to serve as the site for Stringfellow hospital, a nonprofit institution opened in 1938, according to the dog park sign. In early 1997, according to reports at the time, a multi-decade deal between Stringfellow Memorial Hospital and a Florida hospital chain, Health Management Associates, generated millions of dollars in seed money for what would become the current foundation, which debuted in early 1999.

Gloria Bennett, a Community Foundation board member, was on hand for the virtual ribbon cutting and said it was good to see something positive to talk about and share.

“It gives a lot of hope for the future ... just the peacefulness on days like we’re having now, what could be better than to come and sit and forget what’s going on in the world,” said Bennett.

Anna Berry, another board member and former Heflin mayor, said it was a very special day to have the dog park, a facility the community needs.

“Dogs are a great common denominator for everyone and certainly to showcase this beautiful lake,” Berry said. 

Berry’s dog, Molly, a terrier-mix rescue dog she acquired when she was mayor, was playing it up for the camera by running around the larger dogs with merriment. 

 “It’s a big day for Heflin,” said Berry. 

Rudy Rooks, Heflin’s mayor, brought his dog Riker, an Australian shepherd, for his cinematic inclusion in the video production.

“We’ve got dogs out here today that’s enjoying the park and they’re just running around and having a good time. We're really excited about the addition of this for our community,” said Rooks.