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Ruff plan: Rocky Mount prepares to add another park for town residents and their pets

Jason Dunovant - The Roanoke Times

Jul 26, 2023

Planning is underway for the addition of a new dog park at a property recently acquired by the town.

ROCKY MOUNT — Planning is underway for the addition of a new dog park at a property recently acquired by the town.

The 17-acre field was previously leased by the Franklin County Family YMCA. The YMCA ended the lease earlier this year and allowed the property to revert back to the town.

Assistant Town Manager Mark Moore sees the acquisition as the next step in a multi-year effort to upgrade the town’s multiple parks. With the addition of the new dog park, the town will have five parks within its limits — a number, according to Moore, equal to a town twice the size of Rocky Mount.

“We have a very strong park inventory for a town in Southwest Virginia,” Moore said.

Work began in 2021 to provide significant improvements to the town’s parks which includes Mary Elizabeth Park, Celeste Park, Mary Bethune Park, Gilly’s Park and the unnamed future dog park. Moore said that park has walking trails and is already being used as a public park. The town recently made improvements to the trails in the park to provide better access.

Celeste Park was the first park to get significant upgrades in 2021. Using a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the park was upgraded with hiking trails additional signage as well as new tables and benches. The sidewalk from downtown was also extended to the park located on Franklin Street to provide better access and increase the size of downtown.

“Celeste Park kicked off our park revitalization effort,” Moore said.

Celeste Park was created out of 5.5 acres donated by T. Keister and Elizabeth Greer in 2006. They asked the park be named in honor of their daughter Celeste who died of complications from diabetes in 1989 just before her 32nd birthday.

The park increased in size in 2010 when Sonny and Shirley Vaughn donated an an acre of their property for the park, increasing it to 6.5 acres.

Last year, improvements were made at Gilly’s Park located on Trail Drive near Benjamin Franklin Middle School and Mary Elizabeth Park located on Randolph Street in downtown. Both were upgraded with new landscaping, signs and restrooms.

Mary Elizabeth Park also saw upgrades to its playground, picnic shelter. New basketball and pickleball courts were added and the park’s tennis court was resurfaced. Moore said work will also start later this year on a new paved trail.

Mary Elizabeth Park is Rocky Mount’s oldest park. It was created nearly 100 years ago and is named after Mary Elizabeth Angle, the wife of N.V. Angle who helped to establish the park.

Moore said work on Mary Bethune Park is expected to begin later this year. Improvements include a new restroom, playground and upgrades to its walking trails.

Mary Bethune Park is named after a Black social leader, educator and co-founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida. The Bethune Women’s Club was organized in Rocky Mount in 1941 for the Black community. One of their goals was to provide a playground where children and parents could socialize which was later established at Mary Bethune Park.

Rocky Mount is expected to spend more than $500,000 to upgrade current parks and establish a new dog park. Moore said the upgrades play an important role in the town’s future.

Moore said efforts to improve the town’s parks is vital to its continued growth and success. In addition to improving the quality of life for town residents, he said the parks have a positive impact on home values and can help in attracting businesses to the area.

“We have great parks in the town, and that is a selling point,” Moore said.

Moore said the Rotary Club of Rocky Mount recently donated $10,000 toward the town’s newly proposed dog park. The funds were raised during this year’s Fourth of July fireworks show in Rocky Mount.

Moore said the decision to construct a dog park came from discussion with town residents. A dog park was something that was requested often.

Moore said trails already at the park location had fallen into disrepair and are currently being cleaned up. Work is expected to begin in the coming months creating the dog park in a flat portion of the 16 acre property. The town will add fencing as well as toys and obstacle courses for dogs.

“We don’t have an official name for the park yet,” Moore said. “That is something we are working on now.”

The park is expected to be completed sometime in the spring or summer of next year, according to Moore.

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