How Huntsville Parks & Recreation is cultivating connection

single-meta-cal August 9, 2023
Girl plays with glow foam outdoors in park

A young girl smiles as she plays with foam sprayed from a cannon during Light Up the Night at Big Spring Park in Huntsville.

This July marked the 38th annual National Parks and Recreation Month. The City of Huntsville’s Parks & Recreation Department celebrated with a series of special events, culminating with Light Up the Night.

Approximately 6,000 people enjoyed the free, family-friendly glow party at Big Spring Park.

“The best part was seeing people from across the City come together,” Parks & Recreation Director James Gossett said. “There were grandparents dancing with grandchildren, teenagers getting glow-in-the-dark face paint and everyone running through the glow foam. In fact, it looked like the adults enjoyed the foam almost as much as the kids did!”

Community through connection

As Huntsville continues to grow, retaining this sense of community is more important than ever. Parks & Recreation plays a vital role in that mission, creating opportunities for connection throughout the City.

adult women exercise with hand weights inside gymnasium

Offering indoor rock climbing, three volleyball courts and two futsal courts, the City’s Johnson Legacy Center also provides strength training equipment, exercise classes, individual and small group training and more.

“On average, nine new people move here every day,” Gossett said. “Our programs and facilities offer them a place to ‘plug in,’ while continuing to serve our long-standing residents.”

While Parks & Recreation was previously known as a provider of youth sports, the department encompasses far more today. There are art workshops and STEM programs, mountain biking groups and specialty camps, fitness classes and coffee meetups. Nearly all its offerings are free or low-cost.

“We’re constantly evaluating ourselves,” Gossett explained. “What are we doing well? What can we do better? Those are the questions that drive us. At the end of the day, it’s about improving quality of life. For one community, that might mean expanding programs for older adults. For another, it could mean building a new park.”

Community through recreation

The department currently operates 10 recreation and community centers, with four more centers in the works. These include the John Hunt Park Recreation Center, Raymond W. Jones Community Center, and a recreation center to serve West Huntsville. In South Huntsville, the Sandra Moon Community Complex is undergoing Phase III of development.

Children play on playground equipment outdoors

Children play at the new Legacy Park playground on Cecil Fain Drive in North Huntsville.

Each center serves as a community hub, offering a wide variety of programs for all ages and interests.

Research shows recreation is a vital part of community health,” Gossett said. “From increasing fitness levels to providing social connections, everyone can benefit from the power of play.”

Beyond the centers, the department oversees 65 parks, 45 playgrounds, nine youth leagues, multiple adult leagues, more than 100 athletic fields and 73 miles of greenways and trails.

Community through inclusion

In all these offerings, Parks & Recreation strives for inclusivity.

Hands with bracelets

Through the City’s Special Populations services, Parks & Recreation seeks to promote and develop recreational programs for individuals with differing abilities.

“To truly have community, you have to create an environment where all are welcome,” Gossett said.

Programs for individuals with differing abilities include art, dance, fitness, sports, swim lessons and a summer camp. The Miracle League of North Alabama Complex is located at Brahan Spring Park, which is also home to the Everybody Can Play splash pad and playground. As new playgrounds are built and old ones renovated, accessibility is now a key design factor.

The goal is to ensure everyone can enjoy the department’s invitation to “Go Play Huntsville!”

Connect with us!

The department usesseveral tools to reach the community. You can sign up for the Parks & Recreation monthly e-newsletter, follow us Facebook and Instagram, or check out the quarterly program guide, which will be updated in late August.