Pocketfuls of Fun
A best-kept-secret, ‘Pocket Parks’ are charming, overlooked little nooks of fun.Pocketfuls of FunTallahassee’s ‘Pocket Parks’ Offer Lots of Charm in Little Spaces
By Paul DeRevere
Imagine a place in town where there is no intrusive sound – just a stray creaking of branches.
There is a rustling of leaves on an oak tree bigger than a house to the left. On the right is the sweet sound of birds chirping. This is a place where placidity rules over the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Imagine this place isn’t outside city limits, much less on the other side of town. Imagine that this place is, almost literally, in your backyard.
These are Tallahassee’s pocket parks, and you don’t need to imagine them. They’re right here.
What is a Pocket Park?
A pocket park is a city park, maintained by the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department, that is less than five acres in size. They also are known as “passive parks,” and they don’t have the facilities – pools, tennis courts, ball fields or bathrooms, for example – found at the bigger and better known parks such as Myers, Tom Brown or Levy.
Most are charming, overlooked little nooks of Tallahassee where one can while the day away with a picnic lunch, spend quality time with a special someone, or simply drink in the scenery. These parks often were constructed to beautify neighborhoods with open space or low-lying water basins.
They may be small – often not too far from some of Tallahassee’s major roads – but what they lack in size, they more than make up for in serenity. Most pocket parks are so small, they are one-tenth (sometimes less) the size of regular parks such as Tom Brown or Myers Park.
Here’s an example of Tallahassee’s best-kept-secret pocket parks:
Chapman Park (5.1 Acres)
Located near Myers Park, TPRD considers this locale Myers’ “little brother.” The description makes perfect sense when you’re on just the right part of Circle Drive, a stone’s throw from Myers Park’s tennis courts. There is not a whole lot on the park’s grounds except for some well-placed benches, but what it lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in sheer beauty.
Peter Bigelow, a 30-year local resident, state worker, local artist and self-described “nature freak,” comes to the pond on his lunch break, as do many other state workers whose offices are nearby.
“It’s a respite in the middle of the day,” he said. “I’m a landscape painter, so I appreciate this.”
Despite the traffic, the pond is very well tended and is cherished by nearby residents.
“This is the only way to live in Tallahassee,” said Melissa Burmester, a two-year resident of Old Fort Drive who works as a sales and marketing professional for Andrew’s Downtown. She has a view of the pond from her back porch.
“The frogs from the pond are great,” she said. Burmester explained that any insect problem her house had was eliminated thanks to the pond’s amphibious residents.
Only a short time ago, ducks outweighed amphibians (frogs and turtles have found their way there over time) in Chapman Pond until after the lake was revamped several years ago. Prior to the renovation, the pond was “filled with a lot of material,” including weeds and algae, TPRD spokesman Peter Zulinke said. The ducks have since been transplanted to Lake Ella.
“(Mostly) dirt washed into the lake over time, and it made less room for actual water,” Zulinke said, calling it “infilling.”
“We drained the water and dug out all the dirt . . . It’s not a high-maintenance place.”
Zulinke added that “there’s a natural spring (in Chapman Pond), so it fills itself back up.”
Because of its natural spring, the pond probably preceded the TPRD by as much as a few centuries, Zulinke speculated.
Old Fort Park (0.9 Acres)
This enclave of Myers Park doesn’t get its name by accident. The historical landmark signs at each end of Old Fort Park show that it was a lookout point for Confederate soldiers well over a century ago.
Its high vantage point, on one of Tallahassee’s highest of seven hills, helped “the citizens of Tallahassee to protect the Capitol of Florida from capture when threatened by federal troops under General John Newton,” according to the historical land marker.
The land marker also describes the park’s ground as a “silent witness” to the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865, “by a hurriedly assembled Confederate force commanded by General Sam Jones.” Historical evidence of whether or not shots were actually fired at the location have not been found.
Today, Old Fort Park simply is a place where the surrounding neighborhood, full of families with school-age children, walk their pets or hold events hosted by the neighborhood association.
Elizabeth Borger, a nurse practitioner, has lived mere feet away from Old Fort Park for 13 years.
“I like to sit on my front porch and look at the park every morning,” she said.
Borger suggests the possibility of “spirits of dead Indians” still residing there and mentions that her youngest son once found an arrowhead while digging.
Dennis Murphy is a property manager, entrepreneur and fourth-generation Tallahasseean. His family owns the Murphy House in downtown Tallahassee.
“There are lots of kids in the neighborhood . . . They play flag football and fly (model) planes or kites,” he said. “During the more mild weather, they come out a lot more.”
Glendale Playground (1.3 Acres)
Blink and you might miss this tiny little park off of Thomasville Road and Florida Avenue. Of course, the residents of Glendale like it that way.
“There are even some people in the neighborhood who don’t know about it,” nearby resident Barbara Lucas, a retiree, said.
Lucas, who spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the Midtown neighborhood, lives a stone’s throw away from Glendale Playground. She said it sprouted up when a neighbor of her family’s donated one of her plots of land to the city. Looking to improve the unused area aesthetically, TPRD built the playground. The exact date is unknown, but it is believed to have been as early as the mid-1940s.
“What you see (in Glendale Playground) has always been seen,” Lucas, a fourth-generation Tallahasseean, said. “(Young couples) bring their kids down there in the morning and evening. Teenagers come down there sometimes, too. I used to gossip there with my girlfriends when I was a girl.”
“We use it for neighborhood get-togethers,” Glendale Neighborhood Association President Kim Maddox said. “It’s got some regular use . . . It’s just always been there.”
Koucky Park (3.4 Acres)
This Indianhead Acres pocket park is one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets. It is part of a larger chain that runs throughout the neighborhood and is anchored by Optimist Park.
Koucky, or Kalkie, depending on whom you ask, has many different features for such a small space. It contains a conversation area of benches and a wide-open field for a picnic or pick-up game.
For kids, Koucky has a playground with the usual equipment: a jungle gym, swings and a set of pull-up bars, among other equipment.
“My kids can just play across the street,” said Terry Kant, a local real estate agent and nearby resident of the park. “One of the reasons I moved to Indianhead was because of the park system.”
For playground enthusiasts, young or old, Koucky Park is a miniature time warp. Its equipment is “vintage,” made mostly of metal instead of plastic. No worries, though – the playground still is safe and fully functional.
Most interesting about the small park, however, is the modest creek trickling under a wooden bridge on the park’s furthest right side.