Volunteer questions changes at Don Davidson, City cites safety concerns

City Administrator Scott Collins confirmed that some Storybook Trail pages have been removed but denied that the city had removed them. One alderman said weather took its toll on the laminated pages.   

Tina Freeman was on the agenda for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Work Session last Thursday morning where she spoke of her concerns for the future of Trails for Kids at Don Davidson Park “in lieu of recent decisions and actions of past and current Recreation Board Aldermen.” She identified herself as a loyal volunteer and supporter of Trails for Kids, who is a city resident and business owner.

She said she has been very disappointed in what she has witnessed in recent months as to how aldermen on the recreational committee have treated local volunteers, “pursue what I believe to be personal agendas over community/citizen needs, as well as what appears to be an apparent absence of common respect for some citizens in general.”

Freeman then asked that she be given answers to questions, such as, if the directional signage near the front entrance of the park that was removed due to incorrect information would be replaced. She noted that if volunteer activities hadn’t been halted by the city, the sign information could be correct. The sign was removed by the city’s maintenance crew because it listed basketball as one of the activities available in the park. A sign paid for by the city and delivered to the park by City Administrator Scott Collins.

“We didn’t know the city paid for the sign until the bill comes in,” said Alderman Tonya Allen, a member of the Parks & Recreation Committee.

“Why not just remove basketball off the sign. Don’t take down the whole sign that we already have,” questioned Alderman Donna Hartman.

Minutes for the June 1, 2020 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting called to order by Scott Collins states: “Alderman Allen would like to know about basketball courts. How many places and parks we have basketball goals. Kiwanis, William Battle and Don Davidson, just checking those goals and nets making sure they are in good shape. The kids need these type things during this difficult time.”

During Thursday’s work session, Collins told Freeman that the basketball goal is being moved to the Kiwanis Park, which the committee determined is a better fit rather than having it next to the pond at Don/Davidson Lions Club Complex where it’s set up in the middle of a grassy field. “We’ll be fishing balls out of the pond,” Collins added.

Question 2 asked, “Will you be replacing the informational signage at the main two trailhead kiosks? That information includes the history of Trails for Kids that was started by Kevin Freeman and volunteers 12 years ago, as well as miscellaneous information about the trails. “This information was removed yesterday (Wednesday), I believe by Parks and Recreation Department as directed by the Recreation Board Aldermen Roger Martinez and Tonya Allen.”

She then asked about the plans for the amphitheater, the natural habitat area for the pond, and the Teresa Brown Storybook Trail. Many of Storybook Trail pages have been removed which prevents children from utilizing that part of the park. Brown, who has been involved with Imagination Library since its inception in Lincoln County and for whom the Storybook Trail is named, said that the Storybook Trail has been vandalized, “it’s gone.”

Collins confirmed that some pages have been removed. “It’s my understanding we’re not the ones who removed the pages. One or two of them had exposed screws that presented safety issues.” “You can’t read the book,” Brown interjected.

Alderman Martinez, who said he had visited the park, ascertained the Storybook Trail wasn’t put up properly and weather had impacted the laminated pages, agreeing that exposed screws were a safety issue. “Did the city pay for this?” he asked Collins.

Collins said that the city paid for laminating the pages, but as to the wood material, “I can’t readily answer that.”

Martinez said cameras had been put up at Don Davidson Park without anyone knowing about this. “A citizen isn’t allowed to put cameras at a park. If a camera is there, I don’t want my kids there,” he said, adding that the cameras have been removed.

Freeman questioned what the future was for the Trails for Kids trail system, the trailhead entrance area and the pond, and how the trail system would be maintained. “Does the city plan to clean the trails, Mr. Collins?” After being answered, “Yes,” she said, “I’m glad we have it on record that you plan to clean the trails.”

Mayor Michael Whisenant said that no one on the board is against volunteers, and nothing is being closed, adding, that the board had no knowledge about the Storybook Trail or things being named after individuals.

Allen concurred that closing the trails has never been discussed. However, she has said that she wasn’t aware of all these projects going on at Don Davidson Park and that the Committee hadn’t given approval of the amphitheater and was greatly concerned about liability to the city when learning heavy equipment had been brought in by someone who isn’t a city employee. She also stated that her idea of an amphitheater is nothing like what was built at Don Davidson Park.

Minutes from the August 3, 2020 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, in which Allen and Collins, who was overseeing Parks and Recreation in the absence of Director Chris Mitchell, show where Kevin Freeman “presented a drawing of an amphitheatre he would like to see happen at the park. Kevin is working with a high school-aged volunteer that would like to see a basketball court introduced at the complex.”

Martinez said Don Davidson/Lions Sports Complex is a park and having a botanical garden there is a “crazy fit.”

“Why?’ asked Freeman. “It’s a multi-use park. Why can’t they co-exist? Going forward, what are the plans to improve and maintain the park?

Allen said that going forward everything has to go before the full board.

“This just didn’t happen in a few months at the Sports Complex,” said Hartman. “When the trails started, volunteers were given permission to make those trails, and plant flowers but when digging for the amphitheater began, why didn’t we question what was going on? The work was never addressed until October. And then, Wham, all of a sudden we have problems.”

Collins said that problems began in October when more and more was being done at the park, “more that we could keep up with.” He said he told volunteers and Mr. [Kevin] Freeman that any proposal that “goes beyond my authority needs to go before the Parks Committee. That’s when it all began to spiral downward with attacks on social media. I don’t know the answers to fixing it.”

“Volunteers need to know the proper protocol as to what can and can’t be done,” Freeman said. “What are your plans? As an outsider looking in, it’s so frustrating. We all need to do better, put personal feelings aside and do what is best for all of us.”

Freeman reminded the Recreation board that they are elected officials “whose duty is to represent this community and its citizens with the upmost respect, fairness and integrity when performing your duties, not making decision based on personal bias or malice.”

What’s next for Don Davidson Park/Lions Club complex

The City of Fayetteville is in the process of reviewing operations and procedures for the Parks and Recreation Department in establishing detailed measures for Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs). As part of this process, some modifications are underway that include the removal of a sign at the Don Davidson Park/Lions Club, the sign presented incorrect information, the removal of fence posts that present safety hazards to trail users, and the removal/repair of other safety hazard that include signs with exposed wood screws. In addition, a process is to be drafter to gain official approval to name facilities, trails and other park amenities by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

It has also been noted that the city is not closing the Don Davidson/Lions Club Complex or the Trails for Kids, nor is the pond being drained. According to the statement from Parks and Recreation, the City is simply working to provide opportunities and amenities to all users of Park and Recreation Department properties in a fun, progress, and safe manner. Updates will be periodically provided as this process moves forward.