If you build it, they will come. Only in the case of a beleaguered Richmond Park, they came and built it themselves — all in one day.
In an impressive feat of old-time barn raising, hundreds of volunteers turned-out at Richmond’s Kennedy Park en masse on Saturday to whip its seven aging acres into a modern version of its old self. The effort was lead by the City of Richmond and the Trust for Public Land whose call for volunteers was answered by about 400 people.
“So this is a park that’s been designed by the community,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, “it’s going to be built by the community.”
By early Saturday morning, the park resembled an anthill of activity with clusters of volunteers scurrying to simultaneously carry out some 25 project improvements.
Employees of the nearby Chevron refinery dabbed lime-green paint onto an old shed, while others dug holes to insert small plants. Teams of people planted 50 trees along the street while others painted footprints on the sidewalk to mark a “safe walk” for children.
Another group installed nine fitness contraptions as part of a new fitness zone. Some took up paint brushes to paint a mural, designed by the community through a series of workshops, onto the floor of the aged amphitheater. Michelle Dupree-Gaines who spent three decades painting bridges for Caltrans offered painting tips to a group of volunteer artisans.
“I have skills I can actually share with some of the younger people,” said Dupree-Gaines who has lived across the street from the park for years.
Dupree-Gaines said even though the park sits between a high school and an elementary school, the lack of amenities left it mostly unused except for groups of down-and-out who would loiter in the park at night. She said she would rather drive her grandson to the park across town rather than walk across the street. But as she looked around at the armies of volunteers, she hoped the improvements would lead to change.
“I think it will give us a chance to come out and appreciate all this land that’s just been sitting here dormant,” Dupree-Gaines said.
In one corner of the park, a group planted a rose garden in an homage to the area's Victory Gardens of World War II. Nearby, workers carved out a dirt bike track alongside the new fitness trail. And in what looked like a scene out of Ikea-hell, volunteers assembled and installed full-sized picnic tables.
“I see a community coming together to make a change that’s needed for a lot of years,” said Rasheedah Grant, whose children attend nearby Kennedy High School.
“We are rebuilding this seven acre park in South Richmond,” said Jeanine Strickland of the Trust for Public Land who spent months planning the buildout, “trying to restore it to its former glory.”
While the Trust for Public Land raised the funds to pay for most of the projects, including a new skate park, it was unable to raise the money to redo the dilapidated basketball courts. Strickland said that project would have to wait for another day.
“This park has been kind of a heartache for a while,” she said.
Janie Holland lived in the neighborhood most of her life. She said in the park’s glory days, it was the defacto gathering place for the parents and grandparents of many of the area’s current neighbors. She smiled as she watched the teams of volunteers bustling everywhere — her voice competing with the din of construction.
“But to see all of these volunteers come out and want to help out,” Holland said, “these neighbors and this neighborhood should feel good this morning.”