Wilmington, N.C.- Did you know that public parks in this country were created to keep people from losing their mind? That’s a little factoid that history has largely forgotten.
Here’s the brief story: in the 1800’s, people living in New York City did not have an outlet, an escape from the hustle and bustle of a large metropolitan area. There was no real opportunity for recreation, no real place to just catch your breath. Today, you and I might now call that sensation “Cabin Fever.” Back then it was a far more serious problem. Some residents were actually reaching a breaking point. And so, in 1853 New York purchased 700 acres in Manhattan and turned it into Central Park.
With that the municipal parks were born!
These days every city and county brags about their park system. And New Hanover County has a lot to brag about.
Currently the county operates two dozen recreational facilities. (That does not include another 41 that are run by the city of Wilmington.) Some of the county parks offer baseball diamonds, basketball or tennis courts, soccer fields and disk golf courses. Others have playgrounds, bike trails, picnic tables, dog parks, splash pads and other activities. The concept is simple. If you go to a park… you are supposed to be doing something.
That is, unless it’s one of these new creations; something called a “Passive Park.” It’s a concept that New Hanover County is fully embracing.
“Parks are kind of an art, and we are trying to find a balance between giving residents access to actives, including sports fields, but also giving them access to nature” said Parks and Gardens Director Tara Duckworth.
This month the New Hanover County Parks and Gardens Department has been broke ground on what will eventually be known as Hanover Pines Nature Park. The recreation area will be located on a 42 acre, county-owned lot just off Carolina Beach Road and Manassas Drive in the Southern Part of the county.
What separates this new project from other county parks is its emphasis on preserving nature. When complete Hanover Pines will offer several trails for hiking, biking, walking and even outdoor classrooms.
.“With these types of passive parks people get a connection with nature, a sense of decompression that comes with walking through a wooded area and hearing the birds, and simply getting away from it all,” said Duckworth
Meanwhile on the opposite side of that spectrum is the Ogden Skate Park, which is anything but passive. It’s designed for those who like to try their skills in one of the deepest skating bowls anywhere on the eastern seaboard.
The skate park has arguably been one of the biggest struggles for county leaders in recent years. Construction first started in 2015, with the grand opening in 2017. But shortly afterwards problems started to develop when water from underneath the structure began to seep in through small cracks in the concrete.
A trench was dug in 2018 to deal with the moisture issue, but the bowl continued to get some complaints from local skaters who weren’t happy with the grade and silkiness of the surface. The county received a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation which allowed them to dig out the original bowl and replace it with a brand new one.
“It’s called the Ray Underhill skate bowl,” said Duckworth. “We named it after a former Wilmington resident, and a good friend of Tony Hawk’s, who passed away from a brain tumor.”
The new bowl opened in November to the public, and county officials believe it can one day host national skate competitions, potentially bringing in several thousand tourists to the area.