GO GREEN: Greenfield parks offers more than green fields

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A bike rider enjoying a sunny day out on Pensy Trail. ( Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Whenever Alexis Warren spots children playing in Riley Park or sees people walking their dogs or riding their bikes along the Pennsy Trail, she breaks into a broad grin.

The Earlham College graduate came to work for the Greenfield Parks & Recreation Department last year after working for the City of Richmond’s parks department each summer throughout college.

Since starting her job, Warren has been on a mission to promote and publicize the local parks and what each has to offer.

“Our parks are very diverse. There’s something for everyone,” she said.

The parks department’s staff of 10 full-time employees oversee three major parks — Beckenholdt, Brandywine and Riley — as well as three smaller neighborhood parks and six specialty parks, including the 5.4-mile-long Pennsy Trail.

Other specialty parks include Thornwood Preserve, The Kathy Dowling Aquatic Center, Rover’s Run Bark Park and the city’s latest addition — Depot Street Park — which opened just last month.

The parks department also oversees the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum.

With the weather warming up, and National Parks Appreciation Week taking place this month, Warren said it’s a perfect time for local residents to get out and explore what each park has to offer.

Ellen Kuker, director of Greenfield Parks & Recreation, said it takes a village to support a parks system as rich and diverse as that found in Greenfield.

“Part of the reason Greenfield’s parks are amazing is because of the support we receive. Elected officials, all the city departments, boards, dedicated staff and community volunteers all help to make them great,” she said.

She’s especially excited about the recent addition of Depot Street Park, which will host a number of outdoor concerts and other events this year.

Kuker said parks contribute to community identity and help create valuable green space. “Parks may be one of the only options for our residents to connect with nature and be active,” she said.

“Each Greenfield Park is unique and offers both active and passive recreational opportunities, but the benefits go even deeper than that. Our parks are designed to encourage community wellness and social connections, and provide safe gathering spaces and activity for all ages.”

Josh Gentry, the department’s maintenance operations manager, said the parks department has been blessed to bring many of its long-range goals to fruition.

“This is absolutely the most exciting time since I first joined the staff 10 years ago,” he said.

Gentry was excited to be involved with creating and enhancing a number of parks over the past decade, and is looking forward to introducing even more new amenities, like a nature center that is slated to open in September 2023 at Thornwood Park.

“Parks are such an essential amenity for any community,” he said. “Not everybody has the resources to explore nature or the ability to get far enough outside of city limits to explore nature, and we bring that right to the middle of town. We have everything from green space to sports fields and playgrounds, and we have an inclusive playground for those of all abilities,” he said, referring to the playground behind Greenfield-Central Junior High School.

Gentry encourages the public to visit the parks website and social media pages to learn more about the local parks, or to call the parks department to ask questions about the parks’ many amenities.

His personal favorite park is Beckenholdt Park, at 2770 N. Franklin St., on the city’s far north side.

The 75-acre park features two wetlands, a reforestation area, a native prairie and grasslands, as well as a native tree walk with information signage along the way. The park also features a fishing pond, paved and unpaved trails, a pavilion and amphitheater, as well as the Rover’s Run Dog Park, the latter of which requires a paid membership.

“There’s just nothing else like it anywhere locally. It’s quiet, and there are species out there you don’t see anywhere else,” he said. “We do a controlled burn out there once a year to help rejuvenate the prairie and eradicate invasive species, and it’s cool to see all the beautiful wildflowers come back to life each year.”

The park is also Warren’s personal favorite, having been the first one she and her boyfriend visited when they first came to town.

“We took my dog and had a picnic and spent half a day out there, so it has a special place in my heart,” she said.

Warren joined the Greenfield parks staff as recreational coordinator last May, and was promoted to program events specialist when she moved to full-time in January.

Before coming to Greenfield, the self-proclaimed military brat had had the chance to explore parks in a number of different cities over the years, including her four years of high school in Long Island, N.Y.

She’s found that communities tend to embrace parks in some cities more than others, and she’s thankful that the Greenfield parks seem to be so well used.

Warren can’t wait to see how this year’s outdoor concert lineup goes at Depot Street Park, as well as an outdoor movie series at various park locations throughout the summer.

In addition to overseeing those, along with the summer Kids Camp, she’s looking forward to coming up with more new ideas this year, like a family fishing day and a “Glow in the Park” event featuring bright neon colors and black lights.

“It’s definitely an exciting time,” she said.

Greenfield Parks & Recreation is encouraging the public to get out and get active in the city’s many parks.
The department’s 10 full-time employees oversee three major parks, three neighborhood parks and six specialty parks, including:
MAJOR PARKS
Beckenholdt Park
Address: 2770 North Franklin St.
Description: The 75-acre park features two wetlands, a reforestation area, native prairie and grasslands, a native tree walk, fishing pond, pavilion, amphitheater and paved and unpaved trails. It also features Rover’s Run Dog Park, which requires a paid membership.
Brandywine Park
Address: 900 E. Davis Road
The 60-acre sports complex offers a variety of recreational activities, from walking the trails to birdwatching, plus softball and soccer fields.
Riley Park
Address: Apple Street and U.S. 40
This 40-acre park has lots of open grassy areas, numerous athletic fields and courts, a skate park, the Kathy Dowling Aquatics Center and splash pad, picnic areas, playgrounds and paved walking areas, with Brandywine Creek running through the center of it all. The park also includes the Patricia Elmore Center, Old Log Jail, Chapel in the Park, Shelter House and Riley Park Pavilion.
NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS
Commons Parks
856 W. Fifth St.
This small residential park is less than one acre and offers playground equipment in a quiet, peaceful setting.
Macy Park
Address: 980 Gondola Run
This 16.9-acre park features walking trails and a shelter house along the Little Brandywine.
Henry B. Wilson Park
Address: 2349 Collins Way
This 14-acre park sits along Brandywine Creek, and features multi-use trails with mountain bike trail features, as well as fishing, picnic tables and a floating bridge across the creek.
SPECIALIZED PARKS
Depot Street Park
Depot and Pennsylvania streets
This 1.3-acre park is the city’s newest addition, located right off the Pennsy Trail in downtown Greenfield. The park draws several connections to the location’s history of railroad transportation, like railroad-themed swings and rolling picnic tables fashioned from train car wheels. The park features an amphitheater that will be used for various concerts and events.
The Kathy Dowling Aquatics Center
Address: 280 Apple St.
Description: The public pool underwent a drastic makeover in 2019, and features a zero-depth entry area, cabanas and two 20-foot water slides. The pool was renamed after longtime teacher and park board member Kathy Dowling in 2021.
Rover’s Run Dog Park
Address: 2770 North Franklin St.
The members-only dog park is comprised of a 1.5-acre area for all dogs and a half acre for dogs under 25 pounds. It features three shelters, two watering stations and exercise and agility equipment.
Pennsy Trail
This linear park provides a paved path for walkers, runners and bicyclists, running from County Road 150 West through to County Road 400 East, just south of U.S. 40.
Thornwood Preserve
Address: 1597 S. Morristown Pike
This 40-acre woodland features seven trails, 15 learning posts, two creeks, a suspension bridge and a diversity of habitats. It also has a campground available by reservation only.
The James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum
Address: 250 W. Main St.
The Riley home is the birthplace and boyhood home of the famed “Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley, who became the national poet laureate of his time. The home provides an opportunity to view life from the poet’s perspective by offering a glimpse into a pioneer-era homestead, which includes many family items that influenced his life and poetry. The museum also features a rental facility called Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen.
Source: greenfieldin.org/parks/facilities