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Nearly 100 years old, Hanes Park needs a facelift, supporters say

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Patrons at Hanes Park cross the main bridge across Peters Creek that leads from the playgound and hard tennis courts to the area with the tennis center and track. (Walt Unks/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Chunks are missing from the treads on the grand staircase, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

One of the rosettes holding up the official park plaque is gone.

The iron bridges have places that have rusted through.

No doubt about it, everyone who tours the place agrees: Hanes Park needs a makeover as it nears its 100th birthday.

“It is one of the highest-used parks in the city system,” said Bibi Coyne, with the group Friends of Hanes Park. “It is used by residents and institutions all over the city. It is doing well what other parks are trying to do.”

The park was donated to the citizens by Pleasant Henderson Hanes in 1919. Hanes, who lived from 1845 to 1925, organized a thriving tobacco business in 1872 and was among the organizers of P.H. Hanes Knitting Co. in 1902.

The park has been compared to New York City’s Central Park as an example of a natural place for city residents to play. It was designed to complement the schools across the way from West End, and featured walls made of round river rocks that were brought in from Davie County.

City officials are talking about designating $1 million from a proposed bond issue for Hanes Park. The money would be used for resurfacing the track, constructing additional restrooms and creating a park master plan.

But the Friends of Hanes Park have identified many more things that need fixing, from the replacement of unsightly trash cans and equipment storage containers to the need for better lighting and clear sight lines into the park.

“This access is amazing,” Coyne said as she looked over the crenellated top of the stone wall at the park’s entrance. But it was also impossible to miss the patchwork repairs on the wall where rocks have broken loose.

Green metal dumpsters are used to store equipment. Chunks of concrete lie in the bed of the creek. A dilapidated staircase on the west side of the park, directly across from the east entrance, goes nowhere.

The Friends of Hanes Park and others assembled in February to assess what improvements need to be made to the park. What they came up with is a 20-page report — a “pedestrian audit.”

The problems start right from the entrance, according to the results of the group’s visit.

Designed to be a grand entry, the condition of the stonework and fixtures is anything but. A half-dead sapling rises pathetically from the middle of a circular area in the middle of the entry sidewalk.

The metal bridge straight ahead has a trip hazard where the floor of the bridge is higher than the path leading to it. Park supporters say the bridge should be refurbished because of its function in the park and its significance to the tennis players who compete on the courts beyond.

“You have to cross this bridge if you are ever going to be No. 1 in North Carolina,” said Randy Pate, who operates his tennis academy at the park and talked about the various tournaments that take place there. “When I was young, this was our Wimbledon.”

The park supporters say the bridge should “convey every sense of accomplishment,” according to the report.

Also, Coyne said, the park pathways need better definition and there should be signs to direct people where to go.

“Nobody knows which field to go to,” she said.

Access on the west side of the park is problematic, the supporters say, because there are so many park users coming from the schools and neighborhoods on that side, but no clearly marked and designed entries. The area needs crosswalks and places to park cars for park users, and the tunnel under Northwest Boulevard should be improved to create a better sense of safety for those using it.

According to the report, there are places where people are clearly making their own paths to get into the park because there aren’t enough designated entries.

Although a lot of recent controversy surrounded the decision to allow the construction of a football stadium at the park for Reynolds High School, Coyne said that the condition of the park is a separate issue that needs work regardless of the high school’s plans. She did add that she hopes a stadium would be built to harmonize with the park.

Tim Grant, the city’s director of recreation and parks, said the pedestrian audit was so thorough that he doesn’t think the city needs to spend money on a park master plan.

“It is probably the premier downtown city park,” Grant said. “Look at all the amenities. It is in a location where you have a high school and a middle school and a YMCA, and neighborhoods and businesses that completely surround the park. It gets a ton of use. It is showing its age. We need a makeover.”

Grant said the park’s appeal reaches far beyond downtown. He said he knows people who live in Kernersville and come over to walk or run the park.

Yet at the same time, Grant said, the park is one of many in the system that needs attention.

“With our existing budget we are doing the best we can,” he said. “We have 75 other park locations in a city of about 240,000. We have to look at all 76 locations.”