Thursday, March 7, 2019

7 Reasons to Visit Independence Park

Here's a bit of trivia for you: Independence Park, situated in the Elizabeth neighborhood on the southeast edge of uptown, is the city's oldest public park. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, it was established in 1904 by Daniel Augutus Tompkins, founder of the Charlotte Observer, who argued that public parks are "a prudent and wise investment because they improve the moral and economic climates in cities." I have to agree.

The 19-acre Independence Park stretches from Charlottetowne Ave. down to Clement Ave. and is bisected by Hawthorne Ave. in between. It's one of our favorite "pocket parks." Here's why:

1. The rose garden: At the lower end of Independence Park (where Park Dr. meets Greenway Ave.), is a beautiful newly renovated garden that features a vintage stone seat wall, mixed plants and shrubs, a crushed stone path and rose beds. We like to get ice cream from the freezer chest at the Dollar General around the block (1949 E. Seventh St.) and enjoy a "dessert picnic" here.

2. Paved trails: The park is just over a half mile from one end to the other. The paved footpaths are perfect for bikes, skates, scooters and strollers. Kids can run free in this relatively enclosed area. The one challenge for anything with wheels is crossing from the upper section of the park to the lower section at Hawthorne Ave. There are ramps, but you'll have to take a more roundabout route than if you walk up the stairs and cross at the crosswalk.

3. Picnic areas: Whether you spread a blanket on the grass or grab a picnic table at one of the half-dozen covered gazebos, there are plenty of pleasant places to eat. We like to get a take-out pizza from Hawthorne's Pizza (1701 E. Seventh St.) just across the street from the park and enjoy dinner al fresco. One of our favorite spots is by the reflecting pool at the edge of the park that borders Hawthorne Ave. Built in 1931, this beautiful stone feature is a memorial to 21-year-old camp counselor Lillian Arhelger, who fell to her death in an attempt to save a Charlotte Girl Scout from falling over the Glen Burnie Falls in Blowing Rock, NC.

4. StoryWalk: Stroll and read. I just love this concept. Here's everything you need to know about StoryWalk. The latest book on display is "The Ugly Vegetables," by Grace Lin.

5. Amenities: In addition to the walking trails, there's a fantastic playground for little ones as well as a baseball field (with batting cage), basketball courts, tennis courts, a volleyball court, and table tennis.

6. Demonstration garden: Located behind the 1940s-era cinder block Armory building beside the tennis courts, these raised-bed and in-ground gardens are maintained by Master Gardener volunteers to teach gardening skills to folks in the community. Herbs and vegetables grown here are given to Urban Ministry Center's Soup Kitchen.

7. Skyline panorama: One of my favorite cityscapes in town. Memorial Stadium serves as the northern-most border of the park, which means no towering developments can obstruct the view.
On a pretty day, any of the above is reason enough to visit Independence Park, and I hope you will. Plan ahead, though. For all its features, it does lack one major convenience: Restrooms.

How to get there:
Parking is available at 300 Hawthorne Ave., adjacent to Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School. There's also a small lot at the lower end of the park off of Park. Dr. between Lamar Ave. and Clement Ave. Here's a park map.

What to bring:
  • Comfortable shoes: Might as well stroll the grounds from rose garden to baseball field.
  • Riding toys: Paved paths are great for bikes, skates, scooters and strollers.
  • Water: There are no restroom facilities to refill.
  • Snacks: Or a bit of money to grab food from a nearby restaurant -- and there are plenty to choose from.

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