A lot has changed since William Choice Cleveland donated a crescent-shaped, 110-acre plot of land to the city in 1924, a move that led to the creation of Cleveland Park.
Initially, the park, much of it along the Reedy River, originally had a Girl Scout meeting place and a nine-hole golf course. And at one time it even had a swimming pool and skating rink.
In 1960, the Greenville Zoo opened in Cleveland Park. It housed indigenous animals, including bears, deer, bobcat, foxes, ducks and prairie dogs. Then came monkeys and chimpanzees. Next came elephants, then giraffes.
Now, the Swamp Rabbit Trail is a major drawing card to downtown’s original signature park.
Today, Cleveland Park is being hurt by its own popularity.
On nice weekend days, even if there’s no special event in the park or at the zoo, it’s tough to find a parking spot. That leaves visitors trying to find a space anywhere they can, lined up on the streets that wind through the park and sometimes turning one of the park’s meadows into a makeshift parking lot. Last year, that situation prompted complaints and an online petition by nearby residents to keep cars off the grass.
“All the variables in and around the park have changed,” said Mari Steinbach, the city’s parks and recreation director. “A lot has happened in terms of the neighborhood and community, demographics, resources, and creek flow.”
Enter Greenville City Council, which has set aside $165,000 to craft a master plan for the park in its proposed 2017-18 capital improvement plan budget. The budget is expected to be approved in May.
The master plan will look at how individual spaces in the park perform and whether any changes need to be made to meet the recreation needs of a new generation, Steinback said. It will also address vehicular and pedestrian flow and parking.
“We would be amiss if we looked at a single element such as congestion in the park and just addressed that,” she said. “We have to look at the affects of the water of the Reedy River on the park and the park’s affects on the water.”
The study will also have to look at how the continued expansion of the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail will affect Cleveland Park, Falls Park, and the new City Park.
“We have to look at the totality of the parks,” she said.
Recreation trends affect how people use parks, Steinbach said. Parks started as playgrounds, then in the 1960s the popularity of adult softball and youth baseball exploded. In the 1970s and 80s, there was a surge in tennis play. The 1980s saw the growth of soccer. Today, the popular sport may be lacrosse, she said.
“The number of folks participating in sports changes from generation to generation and sometimes within a decade,” she said. In addition to the congestion problem, the master plan study will consider the way people are using the spaces within the park and development that has occurred at either end of the park, Steinbach said. It will also consider the zoo master plan approved a few years ago.
Steinbach said the Cleveland Park master plan will tie into an eventual comprehensive parks and recreation master plan that ensures that Greenville is keeping current on trends and makes sure the city can take care of its parks and recreation assets.