BY M. SCOTT MORRIS
By definition, public parks belong to everybody.
And everybody pays for them. The city of Tupelo funnels more than $2 million of tax money into the Department of Parks and Recreation's budget every year.
It's a nice chunk of change, but Don Lewis, director of parks and recreation, hopes the public is willing to do more.
“The city makes a significant contribution in maintaining and operating the parks,” Lewis said, “but there are extras we'd like to see.”
The new Friends of the Park program is a volunteer association designed to improve all 18 of Tupelo's parks.
“The whole point of the Friends of the Park program is we want to get volunteer groups and corporate sponsors to come out and help us,” Lewis said. “We want to direct attention to the parks and develop them.”
Created this year, Friends of the Park operates just like any other member of the Tupelo Sports Council. Groups like the Tupelo Baseball Association, the Tupelo Skate Park Association, the Tupelo Tennis Association and others consist of volunteers who devote their time to maintain and improve their sports and the facilities where the sports are played.
“The Tupelo Sports Council is a nonprofit entity that oversees all of these associations, including Friends of the Park,” Lewis said. “The volunteers coordinate with (the Department of Parks and Recreation), and they primarily focus on the marketing and fund-raising end of the programs.”
That process is currently bearing fruit as the Tupelo Disc Golf Association nears completion of its course at Veterans Park.
With substantial help from North Mississippi Medical Center, the association raised roughly $10,000 to construct the course. None of the money raised for association projects goes to salaries or administrative costs.
“A lot of the work was done by disc golfers who just want another course in the area,” said Grayson Robbins, president of the Tupelo Disc Golf Association. “We'll probably be able to hold tournaments in the spring.”
Robbins said the course is currently open to the public, though tee boxes, sponsor signs and a few other touches have yet to be completed.
Friends of the Park is just getting started, but people have already purchased memberships, which range in price from $15 to $1,000.
“You can decide which park you want the money to go to,” Lewis said.
People may also purchase a tree ($500), trash receptacle ($750) or a bench ($1,000).
“They can have it engraved with a name of someone they'd like to honor or memorialize,” he said.
Officials currently are organizing the Veterans Park Playground Committee, the first committee under Friends of the Park.
“It's one of our long-standing goals to build a totally accessible playground here – like the ones you've heard about, where the community comes together to build a playground,” Lewis said. “The only difference is ours will be metal, not wood.”
That project falls in line with the Veterans Park master plan, but Friends of the Park is geared to get community input and support for improvements at any of the city's 18 parks.
The members of the Tupelo Sports Council currently serve as the leadership of Friends of the Park, but Lewis said people are welcome to join.
“We want people to take an interest in their parks and have a sense of ownership,” Lewis said. “If there's anybody wanting to join Friends of the Park, it's open. We'd be glad to have them.”