Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” evokes a place where we can experience nature and let our imaginations roam. But it also makes clear that to get to the place where the sidewalk ends, first you need the sidewalk.
Celeste Park, a forested space for quiet reflection on 6.5 acres in Rocky Mount, now has that paved connection from downtown thanks to a grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Preservation Trust Fund.
Since 2006, when 5.5 acres was first donated to the town by Keister and Elizabeth “Ibby” Greer in honor of Keister’s daughter, Celeste, the park that bears Celeste’s name has faced setbacks in reaching its full potential, says Mark Moore, Rocky Mount’s assistant town manager and community development director. “Fundraising opportunities have yielded limited success since the town acquired the property. Funds from VOF jump-started the park revitalization and allowed the town to really bring the park to life.”
Although another acre was added to park land by the Vaughn family, and the town succeeded in adding a parking lot in 2009, the park entrance and trails needed improvement. Meanwhile, Rocky Mount’s downtown began to thrive with the addition of a 460-seat performance center, a bustling farmers’ market, and an increasing number of new shops and restaurants.
Former town cultural and economic development director, Beth Simms, worked with Moore to submit the grant application. She says learning about VOF’s grant programs got the town development office thinking about the park and its proximity to downtown. “Rocky Mount has a vibrant downtown with all these amenities,” she states. “When we saw an opportunity for parks funding through VOF, we started working through the what-ifs and wondered, how much does a sidewalk cost?”
Moore adds that connecting the park to downtown meant improving the entrance as well, “Furnace Creek is really the front door to the park,” he says, “so we’ve done some clearing, added rails to the stream crossing, and improved the signage. We want people to know how to get in.”
Moore says all park signage in town will be updated to match Celeste’s to provide continuity, and there is an Eagle Scout project in the works for benches and wayfinding signs along the three trails that wind through the park. “It’s all tied to the revitalization of downtown,” he adds, “and the park is an extension of the downtown area.”
Lifelong resident and Rocky Mount Mayor, Steve Angle, is excited about the work going on at Celeste. “Celeste is the largest park in town and has a rich history,” he states. “I’m excited that we can create an inviting place for the community to show off the natural beauty of that property and provide a connection to our downtown.”
For Ibby Greer, that connection represents an important part of her and husband Keister’s vision when they first thought of gifting the land to the city. “It’s perfect because we wanted people to be able to access the park by foot,” she states. “I’m just delighted to know that the park will be pulled together in the way we had hoped for when we originally donated the land.”
Simms, who passes the park on her way to and from work, says the Greers’ vision is already a reality. “It was a bit warmer yesterday as I was passing by, and it was so great to see a person walking into the park at the same time as another was walking out. I think there will be a lot more people seeking out the quiet spaces and shade of the park once we get to the spring and summer, and they’ll be using that new sidewalk to get there.”