Pughsville Park dedicated

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002

One of several Suffolk communities founded by freed slaves, the Pughsville community has spent much of its existence in a waiting mode.

Residents cried year in and year out for water and sewer, street improvements, neighborhood revitalization, enhanced police visibility, and community recreation for children and adults – who sometimes diverted their idle imaginations to criminal activity.

Today, progress is still in the making, and city hall has proved that the squeaky wheel ultimately gets the grease. On Saturday, city officials and some 100 residents were present at the ribbon-cutting of the new Pughsville Park where the surrounding neighborhood has taken a turn for the better.

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Suffolk invested more than $500,000 in the new recreational facility, which includes a bike and walking trail, brightly colored playground equipment, basketball courts, picnic tables, and outdoor cooking components.

&uot;This is the fulfillment of a dream come true,&uot; said Mary Richardson, former president of the Pughsville Civic League. &uot;The community was dying. We had no water, no sewer – we didn’t have a lot of things. It was my dream to make it (the community) come back. Now it’s fulltime, live and kicking….&uot;

Community leaders dedicated the park to Richardson and former resident Mark Hill, both of whom have been long-time activists in Pughsville. Hill resides in a nursing home in Roanoke. Hill’s daughter, Minnie Hill, was present at the Saturday ceremony.

&uot;This lets him (Mark Hill) know that the people of Pughsville have not forgotten him,&uot; said Hill.

Pughsville Civic League President Wayne White presented plaques to Hill and Richardson recognizing their efforts in the community. Long-time resident Jeremiah Gaines was also acknowledged for his contributions to Pughsville. Gaines, 91, spoke to the captive audience on Saturday and spoke of his achievements as a runner. Gaines started running at the age of 68, and has accumulated more than 500 medals since.

After the ceremony, residents enjoyed a cookout featuring grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, and cake, as children embedded their footprints in the sand at the park. For once, they had good options – food could wait for now – meanwhile, slides, monkey bars, swings, and an obstacle course awaited them. Two basketball games were quickly in progress, while women and men could be found getting some exercise power-walking around the trail.

Nansemond Borough representative Councilman Leroy Bennett explained to his constituents that work has been under way on this project for three years, as they well knew. The project’s original completion date was slated a year from the groundbreaking; however, wetlands issues threatened to altogether halt the park’s development.

&uot;I am really excited today. It took three years of hard labor and struggle, but we did it,&uot; said Bennett on Saturday. &uot;The community asked me for this because there was no place for the kids to play.&uot; He and other city officials who spoke also noted that the project generated frustration from the community because it was seemingly at a standstill.

&uot;I thought it would be easy to do,&uot; Bennett said. But confronted with environmental obstacles, the park was not an overnight success. In the end, Gerry Jones, the city’s capital program management director, said that the issues were resolved with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Consequently, some of the planned square-footage was eliminated, though it was originally the planned site for tennis courts and a baseball field. There were no complaints found, however, on Saturday.

&uot;There were a lot of hurdles, echoed Jones, but the city still managed to deliver a &uot;high-quality park.&uot;

Mayor Curtis Milteer saw the park as an initiative that will &uot;enhance the quality of life for children in this community.&uot; According to the parent of an eight- and ten-year-old, Donica Childs, said the park will do just that.

Traditionally, neighborhood children played basketball in the streets, or in their driveways. &uot;This is well needed for the community,&uot; said Childs. ‘This will also give the children more opportunities to meet other kids.&uot;

It was clearly evident Saturday that the persistence of residents – either with or without children – was the greatest impetus behind development of the park.

&uot;The community saw a vision of having a park and never gave up,&uot; said Suffolk Parks and Recreation Director Melanie Green. &uot;They were going to see that park come.&uot;

Richardson stated Saturday that the neighborhood will ban together to ensure that the park is maintained. Criminal activity will not be tolerated, she stressed, as residents shook their heads in agreement. &uot;This is not a drug, park,&uot; she added.

Several Suffolk Police officers were on hand at the event directing traffic, and providing support.