This being Parks & Recreation Month in Huntsville, and this being 2017, hashtags must be employed. In this case, the #GoPlayHsv campaign, which is an encouragement for residents to take advantage of the many recreational facilities, parks and greenways offered by the City of Huntsville.
Me, I’m gonna #GoWatchHsvPlay. Not that I didn’t want to break a sweat – that happened often enough, getting in and out of a car all day – but to see as many sites and activities as I could on a reasonably typical July Saturday.
Join me on the 72-mile, six-hour journey.
8:49 a.m. – It’s easy to forget the little pocket parks around town. But there aren’t many spots prettier than Bill Kling Sr. Park at the corner of Governor’s and California, which often goes unnoticed as drivers whiz past.
It’s a magnificent bit of landscaping, with an enviable patch of grass guarded over by rich pink crepe myrtles. A couple of benches and a picnic table are there.
It’s a reminder that not every park has to be elaborate. It may be nothing more than giving Mother Nature a little helping hand.
9:19 a.m. – On the subject of Mother Nature, I’ve gone from one of the smallest parks to the largest.
Hays Nature Preserve covers 538 acres in the Hampton Cove area, with woods, walking and biking trails that are part of the greenway network, a playground and pond.
A family trundles over the bridge on a pair of bikes, with mom towing one of those toddler buggies behind. They encounter a walker striding purposely toward the Flint River bridge.
Now comes a guy in his 60s, cruising down the easy grade of the bridge, taking his hands from the handlebars and folding his arms in front of his chest. Look, Mom, no hands. Some kids never grow up.
9:59 a.m. – Out of the corner of my eye as I drive Bailey Cove, I see a large greenspace I’ve passed hundreds of times but never noticed.
Willow Park with his two tennis courts, a playground and ball diamond is sort of cuddled into an elbow of a neighborhood, one of many such smaller parks. It’s empty now – but full of promise.
10:24 a.m. – Southside Park is fairly deserted. There’s nary a canine in the dog park. Who hasn’t let the dogs out?
In the distance, two guys with the look of experienced disc golfers, with their backpacks Frisbee-full, are playing. Experienced they may be, one of the golfers is carefully clambering down an embankment. He has done whatever the disc golf equivalent of “over-clubbing” is and overshot the target, sailing a disc down into a muddy culvert.
10:38 a.m. – I hear the steady “pock-pock-pock” sound echoing from the Huntsville Tennis Center. Then, this sound:
“Stop being so cute and hit the dang ball!” comes a loud admonishment. I always heard about the dangers of mixed doubles, and not sure this duo is in a honeymoon phase.
11:05 a.m. – The Metro Kiwanis Sportsplex is a hotbed for local softball players through the week, but it’s a boon to the economy on weekends. The USSSA Black America Rocket City Classic tournament, for men’s and women’s teams, is going on, putting a lot of out-of-town license plates in the parking lot.
A dead giveaway to how good these teams are: None of those cars are parked in the rows nearest the outfield fences.
11:33 a.m. – “It’s a good thing they’re better firemen and cops than they are volleyball players.”
That’s the scouting report I hear as I arrive at the Jaycee Building, where a volleyball game between Huntsville Police and Huntsville Fire & Rescue is taking place. Also on the site: pickleball, a line-dance demonstration, a mini-obstacle course, a bouncy house, food trucks and throbbing music. It’s all a part of the Family Fun Fest, organized by the Parks and Recreation Department.
12:24 p.m. – This is where you long to be young again. The Dr. Richard Showers Sr., Recreation Center has a free-to-use splash pad. It’s 90 degrees and standing by a jet of water or waiting under a bucket to refill and dump gallons of water on your head is awfully appealing. Instead, you’ll leave the fun to the dozen or so kids, with patient and soaked parents, to embrace this place where it’s impossible not to smile.
12:30 p.m. – It’s a two-fer at the Showers Center.
Behind the splash pad, a bunch of people have gathered for the ultimate recess sport. There is a charity kickball tournament going on, with the requisite tents selling drinks, food and sno-cones.
1:07 p.m. – Brahan Spring Park has been jammed much of the day. Though the sand volleyball games have broken up, there is a family reunion nearby, each in matching T-shirts. The splash pad here looks equally enticing. A man stands on the bank of the lagoon, fishing as his wife and child picnic nearby.
There are eight or 10 groups of players out at the disc golf course, in that thicket of pines that prompts a frequent “thonk!” of plastic against tree trunk. I once played the course with Lavone Wolfe, a disc golf pro, loaning me his discs and teaching me to play. It was like going around Augusta National with Jack Nicklaus carrying my clubs.
2:09 p.m. (or 2:07 p.m., depending upon which clock you see) – If clocks on the far wall aren’t fully synchronized, that’s one of the only problems at the newly renovated Huntsville Aquatics Center.
The place is packed with fans and swimmers. They spill out into the parking lot, where food trucks and – great idea – portable ATM are set up. This is the first test for the new Competition Pool, the centerpiece of the $22.4 million complex that was unveiled only two days earlier.
I see Chris O’Neil, the Facilities Project Manager for the City of Huntsville. Chris is one of the greatest swimmers in Huntsville history and he helped shepherd the construction of the Aquatics Center.
“’Awesome’ is the word I keep hearing from everybody,” O’Neil tells me.
It’s as good a word as any. And it’s as good as place as any to end the tour, six hours later, having seen so much of Huntsville. #GoPlayHsv.
To view all of Huntsville’s park offerings, visit Parks & Recreation on HuntsvilleAL.gov