The empty can of malt liquor that rattled over to greet my daughter and I as we stepped out of our car at Chavis Park over Memorial Day weekend was emblematic of the problems faced by this park near downtown Raleigh.
With no more than three cars in the parking lot on a holiday weekend, there was plenty of space for the can to roll. And there are some other more systemic problems there that city officials agree needs to be addressed. (We also saw a man walk through the park with a bottle of malt liquor, overflowing garbage cans and shards of broken beer bottles).
Signs at Pullen Park, which is closed for a major overhaul until late summer 2011, point parkgoers to Chavis because of its carousel. Unfortunately not enough people are making the three mile trek down Western and Martin Luther King boulevards to get there. Triangle carousels: Chavis has carousel, few visitors
Chavis has had a few big weekends since it's been the only carousel in town, drawing 100 to 150 people, Richard Costello with the city parks department tells me. That still pales in comparison to a big weekend at Pullen where a couple of thousand might ride the carousel.
It's too bad. With an outdoor pool and sprayground; a large though aging playground; a track and community center; and the city's other carousel, there's plenty to recommend at Chavis. It's just that so few people know about it or are willing to go there.
"I think probably one of the biggest challenges is that a lot of people are not even aware of the opportunity there and if more people were aware of the opportunities, the proximity of downtown, it's a nice neighborhood pool to go cool off," senior park planner David Shouse said. "If there were more legitimate users there. That's more legitimate users to be more eyes in the park and perhaps make people that detract from the experience, have them feeling a little less apt to be in the park and do what they're doing."
Shouse also pointed out that the problems at Chavis extend to other parks as well where unauthorized sports leagues, for instance, might gather to play and leave plenty of evidence behind.
"We don't know all the time what's going on," he said.
In the next fiscal year, the city has plans to take a look at Chavis to see how they can get more people to take advantage of all that it has to offer. A major project, slated to start next year, also will move the Chavis carousel to a more visible spot off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a move that many in the neighborhood oppose because of the historic nature of the park. The park opened in 1937 and is named for John Chavis, a Revolutionary War soldier, teacher and minister who established an integrated school for children in Raleigh. The historic Allan Herschell Carousel has been at the park since its opening, but dates to 1923 or earlier.
But some say the time is now to boost Chavis' visibility especially with Pullen closed.
"This is a golden opportunity to showcase it," said James West, who represents the area on City Council.
"When you go to Pullen, you expect certain things," he said. "I think Chavis, the history, the environment itself, it's a low-wealth area. That means you have to police it and monitor it."
West said he planned to talk to city officials about the park.
"What bothers me is the possible atmosphere," he said. "If you don't have the environment, the people are not going to come."
Southeast Raleigh community activist Octavia Rainey said the city needs to figure out now how to increase the number of parkgoers. She thinks perhaps a regular series of jazz or gospel concerts or events for kids might bring more people there.
"We need to do more specialized events at Chavis and put a marketing strategy behind them," she said. "Just like we do for the downtown amphitheater, just like we do for Raleigh Wide Open, just like we would for the Race for the Cure. With Pullen being closed, this is the opportunity for Chavis now."
Chavis Community Park is located at 505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Raleigh. The carousel is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $1. Children 13 months and under are free with a paying adult.
With Pullen closed, Go Ask Mom will feature the carousels of the Triangle for the next three weeks. Check back here next Friday for the next installment.