About 45 people, including federal and state lawmakers, gathered along the banks of Lovills Creek in Mount Airy Thursday afternoon at a new “pocket park” — probably not realizing they were part of something unique.
“It may be the first time any of us have been to a ribbon cutting for restrooms,” Mayor Pro Tem Jon Cawley told the gathering seated under a large tent offering scant protection from 90-degree heat and a searing sun.
All joking aside, “they have been very needed,” Cawley, also a city commissioner, added regarding the main feature of the Granite City Greenway Pocket Park, where a yellow ribbon was cut to officially dedicate the restroom, picnic and other facilities there.
“We all know this is going to be a great addition,” he said.
Along with city elected officials, Parks and Recreation staff members and other local greenway supporters, Thursday’s event was attended by U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, state Rep. Sarah Stevens and Dwayne Patterson, who recently became North Carolina’s parks director.
The new pocket park is located along the greenway behind the New Market Crossing shopping center, where trail users had to rely on porta-johns for years.
Although the new restrooms were the focal point of Thursday’s program, those attending were told how those facilities are just one facet of an effort representing something much greater.
Darren Lewis, city parks and recreation director, said during the program that the story began earlier this decade when Mount Airy received a $2.2 million N.C. Department of Transportation grant to connect the two local greenways along the Ararat River and Lovills Creek. Restoration of streambanks also occurred.
That led to Mount Airy seeking another grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, for which the DOT funding served as a match.
The $250,000 subsequently awarded by that source in 2015 funded the restroom/picnic area behind the shopping center, a Little League baseball field near Tharrington Primary School and a smaller pocket park where the Ararat River and Lovills Creek meet.
It also sparked a sense of community, Lewis said Thursday, including the building of a “hammock hangout” adjacent to the new restrooms through an Eagle Scout project, and Eagle Carports’ adding of picnic shelters and concrete pads nearby. The naming rights for a bench in front of the restrooms also were acquired to honor Mount Airy’s first city manager, Peter Lydens.
The various partnerships of governmental, business and community resources produced an “amazing” result for the pocket park, Lewis said.
Quality of life lauded
That accomplishment was hailed by the visiting officials present Thursday.
“I want to congratulate everybody involved,” said Foxx, who represents Surry County in Congress and was in town during the August recess of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Grant writing is not easy,” she said of the competitive nature of that process.
What has occurred with the growth of Mount Airy’s recreation facilities through numerous grants received over the years is about more than money, said Patterson, the state parks director.
He said people who use facilities such as Mount Airy’s greenway are able to escape the pressures of daily life in a laid-back natural setting.
“They are finding their souls,” Patterson said.
Foxx agreed in piggybacking on his comments.
“Having your soul renewed in an area such as this is important,” she said of the greenway and its newer amenities such as the pocket park. “I celebrate this along with you.”
Rep. Stevens also praised the greenway system, recalling during her remarks Thursday that it stemmed from a major flood in 1979 which caused millions of dollars in damages to property along the two waterways.
“We realized we had to do something with our riverbanks,” Stevens said, which led to a massive diking and channelization network that includes the greenway system.
She also spoke from the perspective of one of its users.
“I am on the walking trail a lot, and it’s amazing how many people are there, especially in the morning,” said the N.C. General Assembly member who lives in Mount Airy.
People play in the stream and venture to islands along its corridor, she has observed.
“These bathrooms are very important,” Stevens said of those facilities’ role in the overall greenway experience.
“Not everybody has this,” the state legislator said of how this city is fortunate to possess such resources compared to other communities.
“This is an amazing asset and you don’t really know or appreciate it until you leave here.”
Commissioner Cawley said the challenge is to continue enhancing such recreational facilities.
“The way to keep things invigorated is to make them better.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.