You can have outdoor recreation without a ball and a bat, Mark Moore likes to say. But when he was hired as director of the just-formed Pittsylvania Parks and Recreation department in 2011, he was tasked first and foremost with giving kids places to play sports.
“I came on to address a specific need,” he remembers. “And that was to create parks with sports fields where volunteer youth clubs could play.”
Ten years and twelve new athletic fields later, Moore has fulfilled that mandate, but he always felt strongly about the need for a different kind of park. “Wayside Park was something I had had my eye on,” he says, “but it was always at the bottom of the list.”
At just over 50 acres, the Depression-era Wayside Park had been a gathering place for the community for generations, hosting family and company picnics, school field trips, and even baptisms in Sycamore Creek, which runs through the property. In recent decades, however, the beloved park had fallen into disrepair. Moore hoped to change that. “It got to the point where it was not known for good things, but in my experience there’s a psychological element: If you have a park and you don’t take care of it, don’t be surprised if no one cares about it.”
Moore had promoted the health and economic benefits of renewing Wayside since he started the job, but he stepped up his efforts about three years ago. “The need was there, but people couldn’t see it,” he says. “People would ask, ‘Why do I need a park?’ After 22 years in local government, I’ve learned that governments tell you what’s important by what they fund, so a lot of it was just finding the money.”
Moore convinced the county to pitch in $150,000 as seed money, and he set to work finding the rest. After two years of grant applications, he had $850,000 to make improvements to the park. $106,460 of that money came from Virginia Outdoors Foundation to help with costs associated with protecting the property’s forest and for trail construction.
After improvements, Wayside now has more than three miles of paved and natural trails, a playground with zip line, and a new amphitheater, Sycamore Stage, which has already been rented out for weddings this year. New pickleball courts even provide some space for sports lovers. Restroom facilities have been renovated and expanded and the Virginia Department of Transportation has widened the entrance road and provided better parking.
“I’m so impressed by the revitalization,” says Pastor Ben Horrocks of the Lane Memorial United Methodist Church in nearby Altavista. “Members of my church remember [Wayside] in its glory days years ago.”
Thanks to Moore’s advocacy and to community engagement, Wayside’s glory days are not all behind it. Many improvement projects were completed by local volunteers, including the “LOVE” sign at the entrance, installed by students at the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center. Local Eagle Scouts built the Sycamore Stage as well as a wooden footbridge that connects two sections of trail, its railings providing bench seating with a view of Sycamore Creek.
Other Eagle Scout projects are in the works, Moore says. “There are seven wayside parks in the Commonwealth, but this is Pittsylvania’s Wayside, and the community really reveres it.”
Completing the Wayside project, Moore says, is a nice way to end his time at Pittsylvania Parks and Recreation. He is moving to Rocky Mount, where he’s accepted a position as assistant town manager and director of community development. “I started with youth sports-centric gyms and bats and balls, but I’m leaving having revamped a park without an athletic field as its focus.”
Moore stresses the importance of showing residents what an asset green space can be. “Quality of life and economic development are linked in the ways a park attracts people and businesses to a community,” he explains. Wayside Park lies adjacent to the town of Hurt’s city limits, across from an industrial park already benefitting from having a renewed green space with places to walk and picnic nearby.
“Now, when people ask, ‘Why do I need a park?’,” Moore says, “we can point to Wayside as the answer.”