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Stephens: Think about the gift of transforming Parker’s Pasture into Covington’s Central Park

Ground was broken on July 11 for a new and exciting venture for the City of Covington. Central Park is becoming a reality. North of Nelson Heights and running north to Washington Street is a bold new vision to bring our city together.

The tract was known as Parker’s Pasture to the people of Covington. For many years it was a working dairy farm right in the heart of Covington. The farm was owned and operated by the Parker family. It was bought first by the Arnold Foundation which has been a key in many of the changes around Covington. One example was the development of the Clark’s Grove area. About five years ago the city purchased the land and the idea of a park at the heart of the city was born under the leadership of Mayor Ronnie Johnston and the city council.   

What will be offered on the 162 acres will include a disk golf course, as well as basketball, tennis and pickleball courts. There will be pavilions like you find at the Academy Springs and Turner Lake Parks. As the park is built there will be hiking and walking trails, multi-purpose fields, and a botanical garden. As well as the more practical such parking lots and restrooms. 

At the groundbreaking, Mayor Johnston said, “This is the start of something really special for our whole community.  But for the west side of this town which, in my opinion, has been very behind in the progress that the city of Covington has made.  I am determined to continue moving forward and do things for the west side of town that puts it in a great position to be successful.”    

Two of the amenities offered were new to me.  These were disc golf and pickleball. Both should encourage use of the park by many. They bring something new to our community.

Disc golf is also known as frisbee golf. It is played with rules very similar to regular golf but instead of clubs and a ball, one throws a disk at a number target.  You “tee” off and follow by going to where the disc lands and continue until it is in the target. There are nine or 18 targets on a course.  This sport is played in mroe than 40 countries and since 2001 there are world games. In the U.S. there is a Professional Disc Golfers Association with more than 115,000 members. There is already talk of a tournament in a few years at Central Park.

Pickle Ball is a paddle ball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis.  It is a little over 50 years old, originating in 1965.  It is for all ages and skill levels.  The court is the same size as used in badminton.  

Mayor Johnston told those gathered at the Groundbreaking, “In just a few years, we will celebrate the city of Covington’s bicentennial (2022) and this park creates something that will be a staple for the community of the next 200 years.”  This 162-acre tract intersects the east and westwards and will serve as a connecting point for approximately 10 different neighborhoods.  

City funds are being used.  Even with this and other visionary projects, taxes in the past decade have been cut twice and the budget this year reduced. The hope is to have funds and interest from individuals, business and civic groups as seen at Academy Springs. Supporting this effort is the newly formed Central Park Conservancy. The members are Bess Dobbs, Janet Goodman, Lucy Courchaine, Randy Connor, Ashlan Webb, Anderson Bailey, Mike Tinsley, and Shamica Tucker.

Council Members Susie Keck and Kenneth Morgan, as well as Covington Police Chief Stacy Cotton, were present at the Groundbreaking. 

Morgan said, “This is huge for this community, it is going to impact and change the whole city.  I would say to my constituents of the westward; we need to support things that are actually happening in our community that are going to change it and affect it.”

To understand the size of Covington’s newest park, look at Piedmont Park in Atlanta with 180 acres, though different in shape, very close in size to Central Park. Or compare the new park to Legion Field. the new park is 19 times greater in acreage.

I spoke with Rob Fowler and Frank Turner, both whom used to play with the late Wendel and Willie Parker in the pastures, creeks, and barns on the Parker’s farm. They shared happy memories of a by gone era when there a place to play so near their homes. So, in a way, it is coming full circle for the green space and parkland to be set aside for the future children to do the same.   And of course, this new park is for all ages. 

I caught Fowler during a trip he is on in Wyoming and Montana. What a world our mobile phones open for us.  He observed in his travels the cities and towns that are prospering as those who are building the parks and facilities needed for people to have a healthy and quality way of living. He sees this in this new Park along with the trails and other efforts  Covington is Fowler spoke of this building “connectivity” for our community.

This new park is our gift to the future.  It takes those with vision to build now while we can.  Piedmont Park, that is so important to Atlanta, was founded in 1895.  It would be very difficult to start it today.  So, for those who follow in our footsteps, we offer this new park in the heart of our city.

B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.