By Mindy Lucas
When Brantley Wilson was a child growing up in Mossy Oaks, Southside Park was not a place to visit. In fact the area, then the site of a wastewater treatment plant, was something to be avoided.
“To be honest, you made sure your windows weren’t down when you drove by,” Wilson said recently, remembering what the site was once like.
A longtime Mossy Oaks resident and school administrator, Wilson now chairs the newly formed Southside Park Task Force.
The 10-member, Beaufort City Council-appointed group is charged with advising the council on how to improve the city-owned park in the heart of the neighborhood.
While the treatment facility has long since closed and its equipment removed, the 32-acre site has sat largely undeveloped over the years, save for a dog park, some walking trails, a pair of restrooms and a lot of green space.
But the fact that there isn’t much in Southside Park – or something for neighborhood kids to do once they’re there, as one task force member put it – hasn’t been for lack of imagination. In fact, it’s been mostly by design.
When the park reverted back to city ownership after Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority vacated the property, city leaders planned for a passive park.
In fact, one of the best things about the park, many have noted, is what’s not there.
The wide-open, unadulterated green spaces that comprise a large part of the overall acreage, have been a draw for those who love the grassy fields – from Frisbee golfers to picnickers, to those who just enjoy batting a few balls around or practicing their golf swing. Meanwhile, walkers, joggers and nature lovers can be seen using the park’s trails, which wind through stands of mature live oaks and magnolias.
Still, older planning documents and master plans generated by a previous planning group’s efforts show a vision for the park that includes a playground area, more restrooms, additional parking and picnic areas throughout the site.
The new task force, Wilson said, are taking these earlier planning documents to heart.
“We’ve had some conversations built around what has been requested and previous things that have come out in survey data,” he said.
At the same time, though, he and other Mossy Oaks residents want to keep the park true to its passive park roots.
“I think there’s value in having open space that’s not defined,” he said.
Feedback from residents as well indicated a preference for low-impact amenities rather than athletic fields for organized sports.
“And there actually is quite a lot of space to put other amenities without necessarily needing to cut into the green space,” he added.
Members of the task force hope to have discussions with county leaders and the county’s parks and recreation department in terms of possibly adding additional tennis court or similar facilities, he said.
The county owns a neighboring plot of land, connected to Southside Park by a walking trail, that already features two tennis courts. Earlier planning documents for the park proposed adding two additional courts to the county’s site.
“So part of the vision is that it would feel like its one interconnected park,” he said.
Beaufort County Council member Alice Howard is a member of the task force, Wilson noted, a relationship the task force hopes to utilize in terms of discussions and sharing ideas.
The group has 90 days to present a plan to city council and plans to go back to residents with a new survey soon to collect additional ideas and fine tune previous suggestions.
Meanwhile, other suggestions put forward such as an amphitheater for music festivals are less likely to be recommended by the task force since many residents indicated they didn’t want activities that would create a lot of noise, City Councilman Neil Lipsitz said.
“We need to respect the neighborhood,” he said at the group’s most recent meeting.
A longtime resident of Mossy Oaks who lives a “stone’s throw” away from the dog park, Lipsitz is now serving as council liaison to the task force.
Lipsitz ran for city council partly on a platform for improving the park. He specifically wants to see a playground added, he said.
“It would help revitalize the neighborhood and attract young families,” he said.
In fact, he’d like see some amenities that would include all ages, he said, something like nine-hole disc golf, a recreation that requires substantially less space than golf, can be relatively inexpensive to install, requires little to no maintenance and features above-ground hoops or “targets.”
“Anything that can include the entire family,” he said.
HAVE AN IDEA?
Have an idea or suggestion for what you’d like to see in Southside Park? Email those to City of Beaufort’s Downtown Director of Operations Linda Roper at email@example.com.
Above: The new Southside Park Task Force is reviewing previous documents, surveys and plans such as this 2013 master plan from previous groups’ efforts. Image courtesy of City of Beaufort.