FORT MILL — Earlier this spring, the town completed Millstone Park by adding a playground. Soon, it will put the finishing touches on a $1.6 million renovation of the Doby’s Bridge Field ballpark.
That’s all well and good, Kenny Walker says, but he wants to know why the lone park in his community isn’t getting more attention. Walker, a lifelong Fort Mill resident who graduated from Fort Mill High in 1976, said he wonders if Steele Street Park in his Paradise neighborhood is neglected in favor of the town’s newer, shinier recreation projects.
“Some other parks, they get new stuff all the time,” Walker said a few minutes after an April 23 drop-in meeting at Bethlehem Baptist Church ended. “They should have used some of that money here.”
The meeting was an opportunity for residents to learn about the town’s effort to compete for a $350,000 community block grant and provide input on what the money could be used for.
Walker said he makes a yearly assessment of the park and tries to get the town to address any deficiencies he sees. He said it was just about a year ago that he tried to engage Fort Mill Parks and Recreation Director Brown Simpson about his concerns, but was rebuffed.
“What they tell me is they don’t have money for this park,” Walker said.
“You got money for all the [other] parks; it’s just for the ones the city thinks needs the most attention. I talked to Brown Simpson. I talked to the mayor. The mayor, Danny Funderburk, he told me to talk to Brown Simpson. Maybe that’s something the mayor needs to do, [say] ‘I got to talk to Brown Simpson and see what we can do, what improvements we can make.’”
Walker said he spoke to Simpson a second time and was told to form a volunteer committee “and that maybe we could pay for it ourselves.” Among his complaints about Steele Street Park, Walker said a malfunctioning water fountain and outdated decor are at the top of his list.
“Those are the same benches there from when I was a kid,” Walker said.
Simpson said he doesn’t recall the conversation with Walker and that his name is not familiar, but he countered the assertion that the town is neglecting one of its older parks in favor of the newer ones.
“I didn’t talk to this guy. I don’t recall talking to anybody about it, but we’ve made many improvements in the park,” Simpson said.
“We bought additional property to enlarge the park and add some green space. We did fencing and sidewalks. We’ve done a lot of improvements to that park and we’ve got more things we still want to do over there.”
Simpson said the water fountain is on that list.
“We’re working on it,” he said.
Funderburk said he knows Walker, but denies talking to him about the park.
“I haven’t had that conversation with Kenny about that,” Funderburk said, and he took umbrage at the suggestion the town cares more about some parks than others.
“If you take a look at the money invested in our parks, it’s hard to draw comparisons. Some of that is grant money, some, like Veteran’s Park was [paid for] with the veterans, so it’s apples and oranges and grapes. Sometimes it’s expensive because you’re constantly repairing things, but we’ve invested significant amounts of money and made it a much safer park by removing obstacles that were impeding the vision from the street,” he said.
The town purchased and demolished a vacant house next to the park and then made the property part of the park.
“That was maybe 30, 40 [thousand dollars] and that’s a significant investment,” Funderburk said. “It’s not necessarily something shiny, but not everything you do has bells and whistles with it.”
Maj. Bryan Zachary, the public information officer for the Fort Mill Police Department, said crime dropped “significantly” at the park – in fact this year its been practically nonexistent according to the number of calls the department receives and field reports, he said.
“Activity has dropped significantly at that park,” Zachary said, with fewer than 10 calls there since Jan. 1. He attributes the decline to the town’s acquisition of the extra property and the “diligence” of residents.
“Between [the acquisition] and the diligence on behalf of the citizens there I think any problems that may have once been associated with that park are not an issue lately,” Zachary said.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the people who live in the area,” he said. “They call [police] if they notice any sort of suspicious activity and they’ve taken a no-tolerance attitude toward illegal activity.”