Two more pavilions to be built at park

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2000

South Park Elementary music teacher Katherine Stagg and Vicksburg Intermediate music teacher Mary Jo Wright round up students after a lunch outing under the pavilion at Vicksburg Riverside Park. Two pavilions will be added to the park to give the public more options for gatherings. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

Since its opening six years ago, Riverfront Park has come of age.

It is now so popular with children and families that plans are in the works to add two more covered pavilions.

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“This place is a great outlet for the kids, especially when they have a lot of friends,” said Greg Banks, a former Vicksburg resident in town for the holidays from Phoenix. “When we lived here, we used to bring the kids down here at least once a week, maybe twice.”

The only negative, he said: overcrowding.

“When you come down here during the school year, sometimes there’s a whole busload of kids brought over from the preschools fighting for space,” Banks said.

Sidney Beauman, Vicksburg’s parks and recreation director, said the park was not used much when it first opened because locals didn’t take the time to visit and see what the new park, with its breathtaking view of the river, had to offer.

Once the city contracted to have the park gates locked at dark, vandalism, graffiti and drinking virtually disappeared and the park began to grow quite a following.

Business people take their lunch breaks by the river for some serenity during hectic days at the office. Fitness walkers show up early to enjoy the view while they burn calories, and of course, parents and schools bring kids who ignore the view to focus on the jungle gym and swings.

Beauman said he hears complaints of overcrowding from time to time, along with requests to reserve the one large pavilion for birthday parties, family reunions and picnics.

During the summer, workers have come to unlock the gates at 8 a.m. only to find families already waiting to be the first to claim a spot under the shady pavilion, Beauman said.

“They set their stuff up in the morning, and try to hold the whole pavilion all day,” he said.

That’s the reason he pushed for the new pavilions, he said. Since the city provides the park at no charge, it’s first come, first served, there’s a need to make sure everyone who wants to enjoy the park is provided for, he said.

Of course, locals aren’t the only ones to enjoy the unique beauty of the playground and park on the river overlook.

The phrase “Take me to the river” was once a frustrated refrain of visitors hoping to get up close and personal with the mighty Mississippi. But since Riverfront Park, the words have evolved into a marketing slogan for the city’s tourism industry.

“Probably one of the most asked questions back then was, How do you get down to the river?'” said Lenore Barkley, director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of the leaders of the push for a river park.

The VCVB provided $15,000 in seed money to purchase the 11 acres 10 years ago and $50,000 each was chipped in by the City of Vicksburg and Warren County. The Vicksburg Post purchased six more acres and leases it to the city for $1 a year. At that time, before casino development, land along the river was unused and inexpensive by today’s standards.

While people who grew up by the banks of the Mississippi took it for granted, tourists wanted to get as close to the famous river as possible, and picnic by the water, Barkley said.

“Fortunately, this came at just the right time,” she said, noting that the prime riverfront land might be home to another casino if local officials had delayed any longer.

“It’s just the most restful and relaxing place to sit and watch the river.”

The city received a bid on the new pavilions last week. They’ll pay $30,000 for both, and once a contract is signed and the materials arrive in Vicksburg, city building maintenance crews will assemble them.

The city and Warren County will split the cost of the project, since the park is a joint venture of the two governments.