TUPELO – Downtown Tupelo was filled with the sounds of chainsaws, leaf blowers, rakes, cheers and the squeals of happy children on Saturday.
About 150 volunteers gathered in Mill Village and downtown as a part of the Great American Cleanup. The camaraderie didn’t stop there – the volunteers joined with other residents to celebrate the dedication of Tupelo Creative Commons park on Spring Street.
Tupelo Creative Commons, which hugs Spring Street just south of the city’s Farmers Market, boasts all the amenities of a typical park – but with a more artistic flair.
Artist Byron Schexnayder was proud to be a part of the dedication and have his artistic rendering of Tupelo, a mural, on display.
“I’m glad that people are enjoying the mural,” he said as people shook his hand and congratulated him. “I wasn’t sure if people would get it, but they do. I am glad to have been a part of this process. This is great for the community.”
The mural features everything that is Tupelo. A furniture maker working away, a school teacher and fruits and vegetables laid out at the produce market. And what would a mural of Tupelo be without a presence from its native son, Elvis Presley?
As the park filled, Tupelo’s environmental coordinator, Sherrie Cochran, said she was filled with pride for the community.
“This project is three years in the making and it’s good to see it being used by so many on dedication day,” she said. “This was a community effort.”
A walking trail created with handmade mosaic paving stones snakes through the park, and several hand-painted concrete pads also dot the area.
The tiles and paintings were created by thousands of school children in participation with the city of Tupelo. Volunteer labor and grant money built the rest of the park.
“There are so many volunteers it’s just amazing,” said Cochran, who spearheaded and drove the effort behind the project. “Mostly it came from a need for neighborhood revitalization because Mill Village had been so blighted.”
The park lies in the historic downtown Mill Village neighborhood, which has turned itself around from a crime-ridden and deteriorating neighborhood to one of hope and promise.
Investors are restoring aging properties to their original beauty, and businesses have begun to move into the area.
Cochran said Tupelo Creative Commons represents that turnaround.
A long process
The park effort started two years ago with a $10,000 grant from Waste Management and Keep America Beautiful. Cochran used the money to buy paving stones then had each of the city’s 3,700 kindergarten through sixth-graders decorate one.
Volunteers then helped lay them in a 5-foot-wide, 0.2-mile path through the park.
Other children in the city-sponsored Art Camp painted the concrete pads with school logos and various designs.
The Master Gardeners provided plants, Lowe’s awarded a $12,700 grant for benches and picnic tables, NeighborWorks donated life-sized chess and checkers pieces, and Tupelo resident Fred Pitts built the masonry sign for the park.
Emily Le Coz & Danza Johnson/Daily Journal