The small South Carolina town of Kershaw is home to just under 2,000 people, but its Stevens Park offers those residents amenities many larger communities lack.
A public swimming pool, amphitheater, skate park, nature trails, community center with rooms to rent and public bowling alley are just a few of the park’s highlights.
Stevens Park was established and donated to the town in 1941 by the family John T. Stevens, a cottonseed oil magnate. The original park included a pavilion and a wading pool for kids.
In the 1950s, a full-size swimming pool and bath house, recreation center, bowling alley and tennis courts were added by the Springs family, whose textile mill was the town’s largest employer until it closed in the 1990s.
The Springs Foundation turned the park back over to the town in 2006, but the town didn’t have the money to keep operating it. The town was considering selling the park, until a group of concerned citizens got involved.
“A lot of other towns would give their thumb to have a place like this,” said James Timmons.
Timmons is a board member of the Kershaw Community Park Council, the nonprofit group that formed to revitalize Stevens Park, whose facilities were in need of renovation when the town took the park over.
Citizens save a community asset
Since incorporating as nonprofit in 2012, the group has been able to bring a number of new amenities to the park that area residents had expressed a need for.
A state-of-the-art playground was made possible with gifts from the nearby Haile Gold Mine, the Carolina Panthers and other donors, along with hundreds of volunteer hours for assembly.
“We had 300 community volunteers every day for a week and built this playground from nothing,” Timmons said.
Donated equipment made a skate park possible. Duke Energy gave money for walkways, and further fundraising and volunteer labor allowed the group to build a deck on the park’s pavilion, an amphitheater, a gazebo and surrounding Dorothy Richards Memorial Garden and other amenities.
As the park celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2016, volunteers are working to complete a sand volleyball court this summer. Future plans include a fitness center, basketball court, tennis complex, kids’ splash pad and parking lots.
Park comes back to life
Timmons said the improvements have brought new life to a park whose future was in jeopardy just a few years ago.
“I was over there this morning and they had fourth graders over there having a swim meet and picnic in the park,” he said. “The playground is used all the time, skate park is used all the time. That’s a very definite change from what it used to be.”
Amid his work to improve the park, Timmons has developed an affinity for putting names to the wide array of plant life that lines its trails, fills its gardens and populates its green spaces.
He’s brought in landscape experts to help him name certain species, and he wants to make sure visitors to the park can benefit from that information.
“I always got frustrated if I’d go to a botanical garden that had a little plant sign and there were three or four plants nearby,” he said. “I never could figure out which one the sign was referring to.”
So he did some research and asked around to try to find a definitive way to label the plants. That’s how he found Plants Map.
Plants Map’s interactive signs and tags include a QR code that allows anyone with a smartphone to access a plant’s unique online profile, which can include pictures, text and links to other websites.
The added information eliminates any chance of a mix-up over which plant a sign refers to.
“When I looked at it, I thought, ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out how to do,” he said.
Timmons has installed Plants Map tags in several areas of the park, including the memorial garden and a woodland trail.
Plant tags as a fundraising tool
As a group that relies solely on fundraising, the Kershaw Community Park Council has used the tags to raise hundreds of dollars for its projects. Sponsors can purchase tags from the council to recognize loved ones or businesses. The sponsorship fee includes the price of the tag, plus a premium to go toward the council’s park projects. Timmons then orders the tags from Plants Map with the wording requested from the sponsor.
“We’ve had some interest from people who have asked for tags in honor or memory of family members, and we’ve also had a few businesses who have used them as advertising,” Timmons said.
The tags help with fundraising, and they contribute one more layer of interest to Stevens Park, a facility whose supporters see it as a real morale-booster for this small town.
“We are a little community in the middle of nowhere, and we’ve got the best playground for 50 miles in any direction,” Timmons said. “The park itself is amazing. We just want it to be a drawing card for the joy of the community.”