Bring your own: Park 'savers' picnic for awareness

mcintireDespite rainy weather, "Save McIntire" supporters gathered in a shelter for the Picnic in the Park series.

"What's the most important phrase in real estate?" asked Albemarle County resident and Save McIntire member Clara Belle Wheeler. "Location, location, location!" Wheeler, alongside Mala Cunningham and Bob Fenwick, hosted the first "Picnic in the Park," a Wednesday night series this coalition hopes will boost awareness of the impending changes, including a private YMCA recreational facility, coming through McIntire Park in the months to come. According to Wheeler, McIntire's location is great for one thing only: public parkland.

""We're not against the Y," says Wheeler. "We just don't think this is the right place for the Y."

Despite rainy weather, around 20 to 30 attendees were entertained by local jazz legend John D'Earth and swing band Big Ray and the Kool Kats. Attendees also walked SPCA dogs and enjoyed hot dogs cooked by Fenwick himself in support of what began as a grassroots effort and slowly rose to a community-wide outcry with "Save McIntire" signs popping up on neighborhood lawns including a row of at least six consecutive houses at the Park's entrance along Rugby Avenue.

On this night, some came to protest the proposed botanical garden, which would transform the golf course on the Park's East side into a mix of walking trails, tree arbors, and native plants. Others came in response to the Piedmont-Virginia YMCA's plan to locate its facility on the site of two shelters (including the one hosting this event) next to the park's historic softball fields. Still others came to vent against the longstanding Meadowcreek Parkway plan, which would lop off several acres and allegedly bring county traffic through Park Street

"The Parkway idea was in the 1960s– it's a forty-year-old, short-sighted plan," says Mary Howard, a Park Street resident with an urban planning degree. "It benefits the South side of the county and destroys the historic fabric of the street."

Construction on the Parkway, however, has already begun; and a recent arson, though the exact motive is unknown, hints that not everyone agrees with the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council that it's best for the community.

The picnic series, perhaps a play off the City's revamped "Sundays in the Park" series (which invites residents to explore McIntire the last Sunday of every month), is entirely financed and organized by members of Save McIntire. In keeping with the home-grown feel, the Coalition plans to continue attracting supporters with children's activities and local entertainment (Trees on Fire, Scuffletown and 6 Day Bender have already lent their support), all aiming to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the public park. The next picnic is scheduled for July 22 at 5:30 pm.


Wait, now the softball fields are historic?

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone "protesting the botanical garden". As a board member of the Charlotteville Botanical Garden, I think there is some degree of misinformation out there. What our group wants to see is a public discussion about both a botanical garden and the future of McIntire. We want what the public at large wants, and if the public is best served by a botanical garden at McIntire then that's where it should go. If not, then there are other locations that would work just as well if not better.

Besides, the question about a botanical garden or not is totally seperate about how we should use the east side of the park. It's completely possible that after a public discussion about the possibilies for the east side, that the public will decide it should be used for neither a botanical garden nor a golf course. That said, if the majority of residents in Charlottesville feel a golf course is the best possible use for all the citizens, then it should stay. If it is determined that only a small minority of people use the east side, and that it could benefit more people then I personally feel other options should be pursued, including the possiblity of open space and trails.