Nothing says summer quite like a visit to a local park. The open space, recreational areas, and abundant nature serve to revitalize the spirit and give joy to all who visit. Fortunately, in this region, there are plethora of federal and state parks. However, local city and county parks cannot be overlooked.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution in America in the late 1800s, people moved to cities to pursue job opportunities. As cities grew, open space and quality of life diminished. Those who could afford it would vacation in rural, often mountainous, areas to “take the air” and rejuvenate their health. White Sulphur Springs Hotel is a local example of this.
However, the push to have natural environments in cities began in earnest so that all residents could enjoy. The first foray into parks began with “pleasure gardens,” which offered city residents a highly manicured, picturesque natural area in the heart of a city; Central Park in New York City is prime example.
By the early 1900s, more was sought from park areas in cities. People did not want to just see nature and walk through parks, they sought a more active role for themselves, and especially children, in nature. The new push for parks focused on recreational opportunities and playgrounds in a safe space close to home. As time progressed, recreational opportunities expanded to include the addition of indoor facilities, swimming pools, and ball fields.
In the United States, there are 423 national parks and 6,600 state parks. The state of North Carolina boasts 34 state parks, four recreation areas, and three staffed state natural areas. Surry County has a long agricultural history due to the rich natural resources of the area. Many of the parks we know and visit today were developed from farm land. Fisher River Park, under the care and management of Surry County Parks and Recreation, developed just this way.
In 1872, the county acquired 400 acres outside of Dobson from the Jones family. Until the 1950s, the land was used as a “poor farm” and featured barns, structures, and two cemeteries that are still standing today. In the 1970s, plans were put into motion to use the land for recreational purposes. In 1998, ball fields were constructed and in the early 2000s the playground was constructed. Today the park is 135 acres and has ball fields, game courts, a horseshoe pit, walking paths, a mountain bike trail, picnic shelters, and an amphitheater. The mountain bike trail was created in 2003 with the help of a state Adopt-A-Trail grant for $5,000 and is 4 miles long.
The Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Mount Airy oversees the operation and maintenance of seven parks ranging in size; Riverside Park, Westwood Park, Tharrington Park, Graham Field, HB Rowe Environmental Park, Lovills Creek Park, and Lowry Park as well as a 6.6-mile greenway system.
The greenway is a connected, paved surface in the shape of a horseshoe open to cyclists and joggers or walkers. It consists of three segments; the Emily B. Taylor Greenway Segment, the Confluence Greenway Segment, and the Ararat River Greenway Segment. Along the greenway are opportunities for fishing, access points to the parks, kayak and canoe launches, and picnic areas. The parks offer fields, game courts, playgrounds, a skate park, picnic shelters, a disc golf course, and a dog park to name just a few of the amenities.
In addition to city and county parks, there are a variety of privately managed parks in the area. What is known as Veterans Memorial Park was once the C.W. Taylor farm and spans 36 acres. Originally it was known as the Gentlemans Driving Park, and hosted horseraces and shows for the community. The VFW and American Legion bought the property jointly and opened the park in 1947. Dedicated to local war dead, it served as one of the first community parks offering recreational activities. Today the park is self-functioning from the revenues it generates from events, such as The Mount Airy Old Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers Convention and the Surry County Agricultural Fair.
Originally known as Buzzard Rock, Raven-Knob Park opened to the public on July 4, 1948, and offered cabins, dancing, swimming, boating, fishing, and picnic opportunities across 250 acres. However, from 1954 through 1959, the park transformed from a public space to a Scout camp. The park was purchased by the Winston- Salem Foundation but was titled to the Old Hickory Council for the Boy Scouts to use and renamed Raven Knob Scout Reservation. Today it is fully owned by the Old Hickory Council and has grown to 3,600 acres.
Here’s a list of other local parks in the area; Homeplace Recreational Park in Ararat, Mountain Park Community Park, Rockford Park, Elkin Municipal Park, Crater Park in Elkin, Dobson Square Park, Shoals Community Recreation Park, and Salem Fork Community Park.
July is Parks and Recreation month, so go out and enjoy one of the many parks in the region.
Justyn Kissam is the director of programs and education at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Originally from Winston-Salem, she has moved around the state for her education and public history work until settling in Mount Airy. She can be reached at 336-786-4478 x 228 or email@example.com