OUR OPINION: Strong park system needs constant refocus

Presentation on Tuesday of a city parks master plan to a work session of the City Council continues a decades-old practice of continually improving, developing and refocusing Tupelo’s extensive public parks system, one of the community’s most valuable assets.

The plan, presented for information and discussion at the council’s nonvoting session, would involve substantial work at three parks totaling $3.657 million. It’s certain other proposals will be presented because the master plan for Ballard Park on Tupelo’s west side remains a work in progress. Ballard already is a busy center for competitive youth sports, recreational leagues and family outings.

History provides perspective about park system expansion and growth. More than half of Tupelo’s 16 city-owned and run parks did not exist 50 years ago. The city, partly through its foresight and in part through generosity of residents, has acquired impressive tracts of property offering diverse kinds of topography and settings for leisure, recreation and sports.

Ballard Park, for example, is a former dairy farm and residential site. Some of the historic farm structures remain in use on the property, but its contemporary reputation has been built on soccer, baseball, cross-country events and public events like concerts along its lake shore and in the tree-shaded central area.

Similar transitions from private-sector ownership to city stewardship figure in the development of some of the other parks.

The proposals revealed Tuesday have some similarities: Theron Nichols Park in south Tupelo and Rob Leake City Park both would get splash pads, the wading/playing depth water attractions that have become widely popular like the fountain in front of City Hall.

The Veterans Park enhancements would also include a somewhat downsized replica of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, but its $700,000 cost would be largely funded from private sources, as has been the case with some of the installations in other parks sponsored or underwritten by private-sector donors.

City Council members had differing opinions about some of the proposals, but the differences expressed aren’t insurmountable. Probable firm decisions about most of the projects won’t be made immediately, but some members of the council expressed interest in immediate action (2014 budget) on some items.

Capital projects in parks, like other similar commitments, would be made with an eye on decades of reliable use.