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Going Green in John Hunt Park – Tree Planting Festival Nov. 5

Published on October 26, 2016

There is much work going on, and it’s still a work in progress.

John Hunt Park’s future as an enticing gathering place for the entire community, with a multitude of activities and attractions, is one of the City of Huntsville’s most ambitious projects.

In 2012, Huntsville announced a 10-year plan to drastically improve the 387-acre park, with a goal of developing it into “Huntsville’s Central Park,” as Mayor Tommy Battle said.

What was once the site of a busy airport a half-century ago has already gone through a transformation into a recreation area but that’s just the beginning, according to John Hamilton, city administrator.

“John Hunt Park has been a vision the community has had for many, many years,” Hamilton said.

“We’re making it feel more like a park and less like an airport.”

He noted that an original “master plan” had been announced in 1993 but the 2012 plan was “when we really started talking about putting real resources into developing the park. We’ve known since we started that it’s a 10-year process, or even longer.”

John Hunt Park, named in honor of the city’s founder, sits pretty much equidistant between Huntsville’s northern and southern city limits. The master plan encompasses territory that reaches from the Joe Davis Stadium site at the upper end all the way to the Huntsville Tennis Center and hilly cross-country path to the bottom end.

Battle calls the project “a true public-private partnership,” whether it be a group of workers from Toyota who surrender a Saturday morning to plant trees along the roadway near the tennis center to the plans for an indoor multi-sport facility on the stadium site.

Citizens pitch in to help plant trees during the annual Tree Planting Festival in John Hunt Park. Next opportunity is Saturday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to noon.

On a recent morning, a tractor is kicking up dust. A utility truck is parked on the shoulder, waiting to unfurl wires. Two workers are working deep in the corner of a soccer field.

What’s taking place at this stage of the project isn’t exciting. But it’s essential.

“We have spent most of these initials years on the infrastructure,” Hamilton said.

That has included aesthetic work, like a community tree-planting project and making the entire area a little more green, and the paving over of rippled old taxiways.

“We’re making it feel more like a park and less like an airport,” Hamilton said.

The paving work connects Airport Road to Don Mincher Drive and Joe Davis Stadium via Jaycee Blvd., the long road that bisects the park. There will eventually be an east-west road connecting Old Airport Road near the military museum with Jaycee Blvd.

Drainage has long been a challenge for the property, as water from the east side of Memorial Parkway flows underneath the parkway and into John Hunt Park. Detention ponds and culverts will be built to close up drainage ditches, improving the look and making those spaces more usable.

“Mostly,” Hamilton said, “it’s about setting conditions before delivering real park programming in the future.”

The most immediate of those programs includes a sand volleyball complex, expansion to the tennis center, converting soccer fields to smaller pitches for younger players and enhancement to Kids’ Space. Improving that 22-year-old park was one of the first initiatives of the plan and now it will be renovated to become more fully accessible for kids with special needs and mobility challenges.

“Going into calendar year 2017, you’ll see the construction coming,” Hamilton said.

And you’ll see less an old airport and lot more of a new park.

Mark McCarter is a regular contributor to CityNews