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Recreation: Dream edges toward reality as shovels turn dirt at park

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Pawleys Island Civic Club is proof that it pays to be persistent.

For more than a decade, the group has fought to build an intergenerational center in the Parkersville community that would give youth, the elderly and everyone in between a place to gather and enjoy themselves.

Last week, as they gathered at Parkersville Park on a cool, clear morning, they finally saw their goal within reach. They were there to join county officials for a groundbreaking ceremony for the $4.7 million facility, which is part of the county’s capital improvement plan.

A similar ceremony was held the same day for a new tennis complex to be built in Litchfield. Construction of both facilities is due to start in the spring.

Though many in the county were skeptical the Parkersville center, along with other recreation projects included in the plan, would ever become reality, Civic Club members said they were never in doubt.

“We had some ups and downs and reasons to be discouraged, but I always had confidence that one day we would get here,” said Rodney Thompson, a civic club member who has been working on the project since its inception. “I wasn’t sure how, but I believed it would happen.”

Norman Reid, a leader in the effort, was in agreement. He said it was hard to describe the feeling of seeing a dream so near to being realized.

“It’s a wonderful, exciting day,” he said.

Plans for the facility, due to open in early 2012, have changed over the years. It no longer includes a child care component, for example. That will open in what is now the magistrate’s office, across from the existing child care center in the old Parkersville school.

The county traded the land that houses the magistrate’s office for 2.5 acres at Parkersville Park on which the center will be built.

The center will still house recreation facilities, including a gymnasium, and activities for senior citizens as called for in the group’s original plans.

Thompson said he’s pleased with the end result.

“I think a pretty good compromise has been struck,” he said. “I think it’s going to work out for all parties involved. And we’re going to have a top-notch facility that will be a good meeting place and gathering place.”

Bill Murray, who helped get the land for Parkersville Park donated to the civic club, said having such an important facility in the community will mean a lot to its residents.

“It gives us a feeling of belonging,” he said.

Former S.C. Rep. Vida Miller said the center will enhance the quality of life not only for Parkersville residents, but also folks throughout the Pawleys Island area, and Murray agrees.

Though he calls Parkersville “the hub of the minority community,” he said the center will be a place where all are welcome, regardless of race, age or other factors.

Having a public gymnasium will allow youth to go to the center to enjoy basketball or other activities. There is currently no public gymnasium in the Pawleys Island area.

Civic club members have long said a lack of activities for young people lead many of them to trouble, so offering a safe environment where they can go to relax and enjoy themselves has always been one of the main reasons for building the center.

Reid opened a food counter and game room on Parkersville Road to help meet that need until the center could be built.

Mildred Point, 98, was among the seniors who lined up to help county officials move the first bits of earth on the site with gold-painted shovels. Her pleasure was clear as friends assisted her to the line-up.

Point was a regular at the senior center in Parkersville before it closed nearly three years ago due to low attendance. She said she’s excited about the possibilities this new facility will offer.

The groundbreaking is the first step toward opening the facility, said County Council Member Glen O’Connell.

“There will be more steps in the future and as soon as possible, we’ll be walking through the door,” he said.

Tony Kester, director of the lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging, also attended the groundbreaking and said it was a bright spot for him.

“In Columbia, with the economy and the budget, you always hear what can’t be accomplished,” he said. “It’s nice to see what can.”

The county has a $350,000 grant from the Office on Aging to use in building the center.

The county almost lost the funds when they weren’t used in time, but the office granted an “unprecedented extension,” something County Administrator Sel Hemingway offered thanks for.

“I promised [the office] this day would come,” Hemingway said. “We worked through some issues to where we can now confidently say it’s here.”

Just minutes after folks left the celebration at Parkersville, a smaller, but no less enthusiastic crowd gathered in Litchfield, on land where the county plans to develop a park, which will include ball fields, an interpretive center and the area’s first public tennis courts.

Plans are to build 10 courts initially. A date hasn’t been set for when the courts should be finished, said Beth Goodale, the county’s recreation director. But they can’t come soon enough for folks who have already been waiting years.

“This has been a long time coming on Waccamaw Neck,” O’Connell said, pointing out that the area has two state championship high school tennis teams that have to beg to use private facilities to practice and play home matches.

Among those gathered for the ceremony were Jim and Kathryn Coster, the former owners of the land where the courts will be built. The 10-acre property was the first of three neighboring parcels the county bought for use as a park.

Jim recalled how he and his wife used to sit on the second-floor deck of the stables, which has living space upstairs, and watch wildlife on the property, including a multitude of birds.

“It was like having our own private aviary,” he said. “We miss it.”

But, he added, he and Kathryn are very much looking forward to the opening of the tennis courts which will allow them to enjoy the property in a new way.

“We want to see a tennis center here,” he said.

Along with construction of the courts, the stables will be converted for use as a clubhouse.

The county’s capital improvement plan calls for $1.4 million to be spent on the courts.

Folks can also look forward to enjoying a dog park and walking trails at the park, along with a Carolina bay that sits on a fourth piece of property that was donated for the park.

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