When the future of Augusta’s rolling, expansive Pendleton King Park came into serious question this past week, we searched Chronicle archives for photos of it.
We expected to see acres of pastoral beauty in the middle of a bustling city. What we saw instead was a surprise, and a bit of a revelation.
We saw people. Nothing but people.
People planting trees, exercising dogs, releasing balloons for Parkinson’s victims, cooking out, eating out — coming together in a manicured slice of nature for just about every activity or ceremony you can think of.
Parks are more than meadows and grassy plazas and forests and playgrounds, though that would be quite enough. They are where we go to commune, not just with nature but with each other.
And in a world where concrete and steel and asphalt sprout like weeds, human beings need their greenspace more desperately than ever. It’s just good for the soul.
It’s good for business, too: More and more companies and the workers they’re recruiting are insisting on precious parcels of earth around which to work and live. And communities are bending over backward to provide it.
How tragic, backward and ill-considered it would be for Augusta to actually reduce its pastoral acres.
But that seemed possible late last week, when it became known that one of the trustees of the park — long leased to the city for $1 a year through the generous will of Henry B. King in honor of his son John Pendleton King — was looking to sell it to the city or develop homes on it.
The trustee, Clarence Barinowski, offered the parkland to Winchester Homebuilders of Augusta after he said city leaders ignored his offers to sell or renegotiate the lease.
No one in city government said anything about the situation for months — apparently because city lawyers counseled elected leaders that Pendleton King must remain a park in perpetuity according to the will. Let’s hope they’re right — but is that air-tight? Were city leaders certain enough of that to gamble on losing 64 acres of reminiscences, recollections and remembrances, not to mention the many memories yet to be made there?
Thankfully, news broke Friday that the various parties were negotiating an unspecified arrangement that, one would hope, would secure the park’s future for generations to come.
“I can say that we feel like we can come back with a proposal that can be presented to the mayor and commission, for them to make a decision,” city Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said at a news conference on Friday.
At the time, it wasn’t clear whether that might involve the city continuing to lease the land — for $85,000 a year, as Barinowski reportedly proposed, or something less than that — or if the city was looking at buying it. If the latter, it wasn’t clear whether it would be for the $1.2 million asking price or for some lesser amount.
Moreover, it wasn’t clear whether there would, indeed, be any housing development at the park.
Our own position, and we’re sure that of most residents, would be that any amount of new housing on the grounds would diminish the park and its value to the city and surrounding areas. That has to be obvious, since private property would be off limits to the public.
The will that created the trust and park does seem to protect the park by mandating its existence in perpetuity. It features such phrases as “kept in its natural state … (as) a refuge for the birds, rabbits and squirrels … for the protection and preservation of its wild life, both animal and vegetable … to be left as nearly as possible in its present wild state as a retreat for birds and a resort for lovers of nature, undisturbed by boisterous athletic games. No trees nor plants shall be cut, nor flowers plucked, but they shall on the contrary be planted and propagated.”
The will called for it to be a “perpetual memorial.”
Even so, we certainly don’t begrudge the trustees from exploring ways to increase the lease amount from the very generous and nominal $1 a year, even as the city spends substantial money on its infrastructure each year. The park is invaluable.
That should be clear enough from the cascade of concern expressed throughout the community last week when it appeared the park might be doomed to modernity. In media, social media and in conversations across the Augusta area, people immediately rose up in opposition to seeing Pendleton King Park turned into housing.
The grassroots are strongest when it comes to protecting our parks.