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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Martin

We all should be grateful for the big beautiful urban green spaces in central Arkansas, among them Burns Park, Allsopp Park, Knoop Park, MacArthur Park, Two Bridges Park, Murray Park, Emerald Park, Riverfront Park. And War Memorial and Hindman.

Such public areas make us happy. According to the website City Parks Alliance, they provide access to recreational opportunities, increase property values, spur local economies, combat crime, and protect cities from environmental impact.

These are the major leagues of city recreation facilities. Less flashy, less famous, but every bit as essential to a balanced urban environment are our pocket parks.

Sometimes as small as the space of a single vacant lot, pocket parks--intended to serve the communities where they're found--catch my eye as I pedal my bike through previously unexplored neighborhoods on warm summer mornings. The view from a bicycle seat goes goes by much more slowly than scenes from a car's windshield, providing me with details I never noticed before.

Benefits include a breath of fresh air within site of grass and garden growth in some of the the most concrete-laden urban areas of Little Rock and North Little Rock that invite romping, running, ball-tossing and other physical activities, tables for joining a friend for coffee or lunch, gathering places for clubs, teams and other social groups, a haven for birds and wildlife (where else will you see an armadillo gallop by early in the morning?), an easily accessed location for mini-festivals, farmers markets and sales events, and a way to unite residents in fun and productive outdoor activities.

Many of these parks are in sad run-down neighborhoods with shabby boarded-up houses, trash-strewn yards, and overgrown weeds on abandoned lots. But somehow the green spaces manage to be well tended with regular mowing and scrupulous trash pickup. Some of that work is done by the cities in which they're found. Some of it is done by volunteers.

My latest discovery is Remmel Park, 27 serene acres fronting the south bank of Fourche Creek east of Little Rock National Airport and north of Interstate 40. Named for former mayor and businessman Pratt Cates Remmel, it's a verdant grass-carpeted expanse transected by a flat curving paved path (nice for bicyclists, runners, and dog walkers) and allows easy access to the Arkansas River via a boat launch.

A few days after I found Remmel Park, I ran into Pratt Remmel while walking my dogs during First Thursday in Hillcrest. He told me an inside-baseball story on how his family name got connected to the park, but fear of reprisal from other relatives made him ask me not to repeat it. If you know Pratt, you can ask him about it.

A few days before I found Remmel Park, I discovered Sherman Park at 624 Beech St., North Little Rock, east of Main Street and north of East Broadway. Set on the edge of a quiet residential area near Shorter College, it's a community center with a grassy multi-use field, a gymnasium, meeting rooms, outdoor pool and basketball court, playground, fitness trail, and tennis courts and pavilions.

Nearby is Dark Hollow Memorial Park at East 13th and Curtis Sykes Drive, a tiny manicured space with a nicely tended garden.

There are tidy little green squares with benches and picnic tables at 17th and Schaer and 24th and Willow.

Heritage Park, in front of North Little Rock's high-rise senior housing project Heritage House, is pretty with winding paths, benches, picnic tables, pink crape myrtles, and lots of shade trees. Jim Roberts Park, a tiny triangle of green with brightly colored swingsets at 13th and Park streets, sits across from the vast Vestal Park at 13th and Crutcher streets with a basketball court, sports fields, and big pavilion adjacent to Boone Elementary School.

Frank M. Witkowski Park at 18th and Division streets in Baring Cross is just about perfect with a multi-use field, playground equipment including a toddler swing, regular swings, stuff to climb on and a picnic shelter; all it needs are a few more trees to make it less sun-blasted in the summer.

Melrose Park, on the border of Argenta and Union Pacific property, has a playground, swings, two small pavilions and plenty of open space.

It's hard to believe that tree-ringed Riverview Park on the River Trail, with a playground, restrooms, a boat/kayak ramp and popular skate park, was completely underwater when the Arkansas River flooded the area in June. After the water receded, the city of North Little Rock made short work of cleanup. It's back in business, enlivened by gaggles of self-important geese that are in no hurry to get out of anyone's way while waddling to and from the river.

Cooks Landing Park on Mile Marker 7.0-8.0 of the Arkansas River Trail, with access to Murray Lock and Dam and the Big Dam Bridge, offers fishing on the banks of the Arkansas River and a pavilion.

And back on the south side of the river is one of my favorites: Prospect Terrace Park, a gently sloped 3.6 acres with a playground, plenty of trees, picnic tables, and grills, within walking distance of Forest Park Elementary, Holy Souls School, and Mount St. Mary Academy.

Accessible, sociable, and imaginative, pocket parks can turn abandoned spaces and former eyesores into valued community assets.

If you see an area that could be a candidate for such a park, don't just wonder if it could happen. Consider contacting your city's parks department (North Little Rock Parks and Recreation, 501-791-8538; Little Rock Parks and Recreation, 501-371-4770). They might be looking for prospects and not be aware of the potential gem you've uncovered.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

Editorial on 08/25/2019


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