Proposed Master Plan Looks Toward Greenfield Park's Next Century

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 1, 2024
Wilmington officials are eyeing a renovation for the city’s largest park. At their meeting Feb. 19, members of the Wilmington City Council saw a presentation from its Parks and Recreation Department on a proposed master plan for Greenfield Park that outlines a significant program of improvements to be accomplished in three phases.
“Municipalities and organizations almost always try to maintain master plans as guidelines for moving forward, so there’s a path to follow showing where you are and where you want to be,” Sam Lee said Wednesday. Lee, the department’s landscape supervisor, said Wilmington has a master plan covering all of its 48 parks, but officials decided Greenfield merited its own.
“Greenfield is geographically larger, so there is a lot more area to deal with,” he continued. “And the park is officially 100 years old. It was made a park in 1924.”
The plan, developed by consulting firm McAdams, which has offices across the state, began with an inventory of Greenfield’s assets: more than 250 acres of parkland, a more than 91-acre lake, 7 pavilions, shelters and gazebos, an amphitheater, 3 playgrounds, a dock and boathouse for boat rentals, 2 tennis/pickleball courts, a skate park and five miles of paved trail.
McAdams, working with Lee as well as Parks and Recreation supervisor Amy Beatty and assistant director Sally Thigpen, invited public input, holding an in-person drop-in meeting, offering an online survey and conducting pop-up survey opportunities at several community events. Respondents were asked why they visit the park, what areas or features the city should prioritize for improvement, what challenges the park faces and what places within the park they feel more safe and less safe.
From this community input, planners learned that the park’s core users live within a 10-minute walk of the facility. The five-mile walking trail is the park’s most-used and most-valued feature, followed by the amphitheater and other trails within the park.
Topping the list of needed upgrades, according to those surveyed, were restroom and concessions facilities, the walking loop, the shelters, picnic areas and Lion’s Bridge.
As for challenges the park faces, “perception of safety” was the overwhelming response, followed by “lack of maintenance” and “lack of park supervision.” People said they felt safest in several of the park’s core areas such as the boat launch, amphitheater, tennis courts, fragrance garden, waterfront dock, playground and parking lots. Areas in which they feel less safe include the sunken gardens, the restroom/concession building, the shelters and parts of the path adjacent to the road or where sightlines are blocked by overgrown vegetation.
There are some aspirational proposals in the master plan’s three-phase development outline, which includes a higher level of ongoing maintenance and envisions such additions as new pickleball courts, activity centers and a higher level of staffing and programming. These items would likely be addressed, if at all, more than five years from now.
Lee is optimistic that the Wilmington City Council will approve and adopt the master plan this month. Then, for the immediate future, the Phase 1 focus must be on addressing the priorities voiced by survey respondents, he said.
“The park needs love and attention,” he added. “The main point is, we want to increase a sense of security, improve lighting and do deferred maintenance. That includes bridge maintenance; one of largest bridges has been closed. [The department] has done the best they could. Back in the day, we built all the bridges ourselves because we didn’t have the money to order prefab bridges.”
Lee is hopeful that the basics will be addressed quickly, if money is available.
“We want to do basic maintenance for the trail,” he said, adding that root intrusion is the main problem there, along with overgrown shrubbery. “We have gotten a large machine that will help us clear [the underbrush]. These priority things will probably be budgeted for in the upcoming fiscal year.”
Addressing safety concerns is ticklish, he added.
“When we looked into it, there was not a lot of reported crime in the park, but perception rules,” Lee said. “People have to feel safe.”
After Phase 1 is complete – in five years or so - officials and planners will take a look at the outlines for Phases 2 and 3 to see what’s feasible, and begin more detailed plans and budget requests.
“To me, part of the beauty of having a master plan is that it opens the eyes of the people who can make a change,” Lee said. “It can be a catalyst for looking forward to another hundred years, attracting attention and recognizing possibilities. People would start recognizing the potential of the park. There used to be boat races, a pavilion out over the water. Greenfield Park has been many things.”

The Greenfield Park Master Plan presentation is available here.
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