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Celeste Park is a work in progress
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Celeste Park is a work in progress

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Most people understand the concept of curb appeal, particularly folks that are in the real estate business. It’s that initial impression one gets, whether positive or negative, when they first see a property from the outside. Whether it’s paint, shingles, windows, lawns or gardens ... a customer’s interest will be greatly affected by what they first see.

It’s not much different when it comes to small towns. Many visitors will judge a town from the initial impression received from the condition, appearance and presentation of the things that they first experience.

Some of my favorite small towns are ones I fell in love with the first time I drove through them. There is something about their visual character that begs you to stop and enjoy … or even pack up and move there. Hillsborough, North Carolina does that to me, so does Damascus, Virginia. I find in my travels that I have become a sort of connoisseur of small towns.

There are many things that I look for in a small town with cleanliness being at the top of the list. I love to see street lamps, tree-lined streets, restored historic buildings and community parks, which I want to discuss today.

For a town of its size, Rocky Mount has been truly blessed with a number of lovely and diverse parks, each one offering visitors and residents a unique experience. Perhaps the most recognizable of these would be Mary Elizabeth Park in the heart of downtown, a delightful, well-maintained favorite for local families.

For those seeking a bit more privacy, Mary Bethune Park at the end of East Street is just the thing. If you want to teach the kids to fish you can always hang out at Gilley’s Park at the end of Trail Drive behind the middle school. Or you can make history come alive for the family when you visit the Veterans’ Memorial Park off South Main Street. While there they can frolic at the adjoining Lynch Park, which is maintained by Franklin County.

As residents we fight the natural habit of taking these wonderful gifts for granted, but I can assure you that they each play a large role on raising the aesthetic value of our town to visitors and guests.

Our most recent addition to this list of unique and special places in town is Celeste Park off Franklin Street just south of downtown. Donated to the town by the Greer Family in memory of their daughter Celeste, this 6-acre track is now the largest park in Rocky Mount.

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I have been driving by it daily for the past several years (taking it for granted) and never until this past week have I wandered onto the property. The park is well-marked from the road with visible signage and boasts a large parking area, all very inviting.

You enter the park crossing a graveled bridge over Furnace Creek, a 2009 addition by the Town of Rocky Mount. From there, the trail cuts through the center of a large grassy field surrounded by woods on all sides. Along the right-hand side you can faintly hear the rippling waters of Furnace Creek, which shadows the entire length of the property.

The trail narrows as it enters the woods on the far side of the field and meanders through this wooded area alongside the creek to the end of the property. On the town’s website, it says the master plan calls for “a quiet, contemplative spot with walking trails … and stream-side relaxation.” And for the most part, that is exactly what I found. It was difficult to realize you were actually in the middle of a downtown residential area, it was truly that peaceful.

But at the same time, it was also quite clear to me as I hiked along the creek, that this park was an unfinished work in progress. It seemed that for every nice feature I came across, I was also visualizing the perfect environment for things that I wasn’t seeing. What I found myself visualizing and imagining was the potential for a true gem in the family of Rocky Mount parks.

There have been some admirable efforts since 2009 to help the park reach that potential. In 2012, a grant program enabled a group of students from Ferrum College to install some new features, and the Williams Family has been involved as volunteers through the town’s Adopt-a-Park Program. In spite of these fine efforts, there is still so much more to be done.

I had the opportunity to chat with Matt Moore, the new assistant town manager/community development director for Rocky Mount. Matt brings 22 years of successful experience in the parks and recreation field to his new job here. In our conversation he made a point of telling me, “I will be meeting soon with town staff to discuss Celeste and the other town parks to identify opportunities and priorities for improvements.”

If Moore is successful in making Celeste a priority, that does not eliminate the need for town citizens to be involved in this worthy project. There will still be the need for volunteers. There will still be the need for resource donations.

If you would like to know more about this delightful park and ways that you can be involved in helping out, contact Matt Moore at mmoore@rockymountva.org or 483-0907.

Until then, go get wild and visit some of our outstanding parks.

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