Posted on August 18, 2011 by Anna Atchison at
It began as a small, grass-roots project birthed in the hearts of a few women. The Friends of Delano Park assembled to raise public awareness of the historic and cultural significance of the park. Today, Delano Park is considered a Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.
“There is nothing more practical in the end then the preservation of beauty.” Theodore Roosevelt
Historic Delano Park was unattended for years. Realizing the value of this asset, Barbara Kelly, Sally Smartt, and Nell Standridge began taking proactive steps toward the restoration of Decatur, Alabama’s Delano Park. “We can all make something out of nothing,” explained Barbara Kelly. “You make your own success story.” The preservation of this civic park carries with it the hope that future generations will enjoy it for years to come. This is a story of hope.
After the combined devastation of the Civil War and Yellow Fever epidemic, the Decatur Land Improvement and Furnace Company chose renowned architect Nathan Franklin Barrett to design a master plan to rebuild the city. This plan centralized around a community park and recreational green space. Since its construction in 1887, Delano Park has been the heartstrings of its community.
The Riverwild Children’s Garden and accessible playground is a significant component of the renovations. Riverwild is a place for children of all abilities and their supporting equipment. Currently, it is the only wheelchair accessible playground in the county.
For this project they sought the help of PAGE½DUKE Landscape Architects. “Ben Page is a poetic visionary, and we valued the concept he developed on our behalf,” said Smartt.
Appropriately named Riverwild, the design coalesces around providing visitors the opportunity to interact with flora and fauna native to the Tennessee Valley. Ben Page was thrilled to be involved in a civic project that accomplishes what so many talented minds had envisioned in its development. The biodiversity and rich history of the Tennessee River Valley is commemorated by way of sculptures, graphic panels, and large river rocks distributed throughout the Riverwild Children’s Garden.
Sculptures of native wildlife inhabit the park. Renowned artist, Bruce Larsen, crafted a sixteen-foot dragonfly on a bending reed. Resting gracefully above the grasses below, the sculpture is constructed mostly of salvaged steel with an antique boat motor for its body. Larsen also welded the archway at Riverwild’s entrance.
“Public art gives people pause. Art is a language that not everybody understands or appreciates, […] but it can make their wheels turn.” Bruce Larsen
Southern sculptor, Frank Fleming, also installed his work among the river rocks and foliage. A bronze family of frogs and a large turtle were among the first of his pieces installed at the park. Fleming most recent edition was a bronze beaver. “It was Ben Page’s idea to have that beaver climbing up over the rock and showing its teeth to the children,” Fleming chuckled.
“We are definitely in an era of building; the best kind of building – the building of great public projects for the benefit of the public and with the definitive objective of building human happiness.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt
It is for humanity that we safeguard natural resources. Securing civic parks for public pleasure provides the possibility that natural beauty remain a cherished aspect of our culture. Delano Park exhibits the qualities of a timeless community treasure in a celebration of diversity.