At the heart of the Dearington neighborhood, Jefferson Park is a beloved community hub, but one that has fallen into some neglect over the last several decades.
In coming years, Lynchburg Parks and Recreation will turn its attention to improvements to the park, located at 405 York Street, and public land that surrounds it — including new facilities, renovations to existing infrastructure and expansions and improvements to existing trails.
A vision for the area is detailed in the Dearington Neighborhood Plan, which includes a master plan for Jefferson Park, neighborhood gateway improvements, on- and off-street trail improvements and proposals for underutilized public land in the neighborhood. Parks and Recreation is inviting input in a public comment period that will last through the summer, with short-term improvements slated to begin as early as fall.
Susannah Smith, construction coordinator with Parks and Recreation, said the park and the neighborhood are intrinsically tried together, and having completed the Tinbridge Hill Neighborhood Plan, Dearington was the logical next step.
“This park plan is going to grow and be a component of the Dearington Neighborhood Plan as a whole,” Smith said.
Immediate short-term improvements will include resurfacing and upgrading the basketball court, which will be moved closer to the amphitheater, and the addition of a half court, as well. She said they will add lighting and outdoor features, create a neighborhood patio with wireless internet access and charging stations, and pursue access and trail improvements. The plan also envisions public art and murals to be featured prominently, and renovations to the amphitheater.
The project has $500,000 in dedicated funding through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, which Smith said will be enough to take the department through many of the short-term capital improvements planned for the next five years.
On a larger scale, looking through the next 10 and 20 years, the plan entails a new multi-use gymnasium, playground improvements, outdoor fitness equipment, trails, playing fields, a splash pad on the neighborhood patio and a permanent memorial or marking of the Jefferson Park swimming pool site.
Centrally located in Lynchburg’s Midtown, bounded by Memorial Avenue and Langhorne Road, Dearington is a historically Black neighborhood, and Jefferson Park was once home to the only pool for African Americans in Lynchburg. The pool was closed in 1961 along with the pools in Miller Park and Riverside Park, a decision made by the city rather than to integrate.
The site of the Jefferson Park pool was used as a dump until 1966 by the city, and the landfill officially was abandoned in 1976 when Lynchburg opened up a community center there. The space that used to be a landfill still is largely unused, a sprawling grassy field at the west end of the park.
The old landfill site has been a recurring issue in the past, and Smith said the department has had a brownfield consultant take a look at the area and advise staff on ways forward. Until they secure the funding to start adding soil and fill at the site, she said it was best to leave it largely undisturbed — but a ball field is pictured there in the 20-year plan.
Smith said the department has held regular meetings to connect with residents and has a steering committee made up of community members to help guide the project. She hopes the monthslong public comment period will invite even more people to engage with the plan and let the department know what else residents would like to see.
Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Jones said she tried to incorporate department needs relating to level of service and benchmarking, such as dedicated indoor basketball courts and pickleball courts.
She said the department is also in the process of incorporating outdoor fitness areas and small walking loops in city parks, which will be replicated on a larger scale in Jefferson Park.
In spite of a lack of facilities and its aging equipment, the park is popular, Smith said — one where people always are at play, be it basketball players on the court, mothers and children at the playground or kids just taking advantage of the expansive green space.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to do something really wonderful there?” Smith said. “I think we’ve come up with something that’s really cool, but we want the neighborhood’s guidance.”
To view the plan, provide comments and find out more about these efforts, visit: www.lynchburgva.gov/dearington