JA spends Saturday in park

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 26, 2009

A city department and a local civic organization have joinedforces in an effort to restore a neglected Brookhaven park.

The Junior Auxiliary of Brookhaven’s provisional class gatheredin the cold rain Saturday morning to begin initial cleanup effortsat Kids’ Kingdom, a privately built children’s recreation park offIndustrial Park Road that has incurred damage over the years frommisuse and vandalism. The cleanup project was scheduled to pave theway for forthcoming maintenance and upgrades planned by theBrookhaven Parks and Recreation Department.

“This is kind of a community project we saw as having a need,”said JA’s Phyllis Grierson. “We want to help the city prepare thegrounds.”

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Kids’ Kingdom, built in a community-wide effort from privatefunds in 2002 and deeded to the city, has gained notoriety as alate-night hangout where some dubious acts occur, as opposed to thefamily-friendly playground it was designed to be, Grierson said.She said some of the structures in the park have been damaged, someof the equipment has been broken or stolen and flooding problemshave eroded the grounds.

Consequently, Grierson said Kids’ Kingdom’s damage and misusehas led many parents to take their children elsewhere forrecreation, and awareness of the park and its many features hasdeclined.

“I had lived in town a couple of years before I knew it washere,” she said of the park. “It’s obvious people are out here atnight drinking beer and using the park inappropriately. We want tobring Kids’ Kingdom to the attention of the community and askcommunity leaders to help us keep it a nice place for thechildren.”

JA members worked through the rain Saturday to spruce up thesite’s grounds and gardens by raking up a park-covering layer ofleaves and pine straw, sweeping up empty beer bottles, cigarettebutts and old prophylactics and weeding the garden rows at theentrance. Members also worked to cut away large portions of the oldcloth mesh used as a bottom layer to hold mulch and sand in place -a use invalided by the park’s drainage problems.

Grierson said the provisional class, which is composed ofincoming JA members going through initiation, plans to ask thechapter for additional funds to help the recreation departmentreplace damaged or missing features in the park. She said theinitial estimate calls for around $650.

After the initial work is done to Kids’ Kingdom, the JA wants toenlist community support to keep the park clean and functioning -and keep vandals out.

“This place just needs some community love and support again,”said incoming JA President Emily Henderson, who assumes herposition this spring. “People want to see Kids’ Kingdom be a reallysafe place where they have birthday parties and reunions, and weneed the police to patrol this park after dark.”

Henderson said JA members have worked with recreation departmentdirector Terry Reid to inventory Kids’ Kingdom and list all thenecessary maintenance. Reid has several upgrades planned for thepark, most of which include replacing stolen items.

“I would love to see an aesthetically pleasing park and be ableto keep it up,” he said. “It’s one of our priorities to get it inshape. It’s one of our four premier parks.”

Reid said his department plans to replace a missing tire swingand rocking horse, as well as several wooden slats missing from thepark’s perimeter fence. The mulch and sand flooring of the parkwill be replaced by pea gravel donated by Dickerson and Bowen Inc.,when the weather permits, he said.

Keeping the park maintained, however, is an uphill battle, Reidsaid. Though Kids’ Kingdom is built out of wood, which won’t lastforever, and the park’s isolated location makes it a magnet for theafter-hours vandalism that has brought it to this point.

“Why would you steal a rocking horse?” Reid asked. “Why wouldyou take the time to take the nuts off and steal it, then put thenuts back on? Why would you steal a 4×8 sign with the donators’names on it? I wish I could pick it up and take it somewhere else,to a more visible organization. That’s what needs to happen.”