College students who feel bad about procrastinating may be comforted to know that the city of Greenville waited over 80 years to open Unity Park. Following years of delays, the park opened in May 2022.
Located four miles from Bob Jones University, Unity Park offers visitors 2.5 miles of hiking trails and a walking bridge across the Reedy River. The new park also offers access to the popular 23-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail for walking and biking. It also has a 4,000-square-foot water splash pad and four playgrounds. The city also plans to build an observation tower at the park that will provide scenic views of downtown Greenville.
Announced in its current form in 2018, the 60-acre park was under construction for 22 months and cost the city $66 million so far, in addition to $10 million from private donations.
Fulfilling an 83-year-old promise
One hundred years ago, Greenville did not allow Black children to use city parks. In the mid-1920s the city built a park for Black children on 15 marshy acres beside the Reedy River, called Mayberry Park. The park included an athletic field with bleachers and a basic playground.
In the 1930s the city used half of Mayberry Park to build a stadium for an all-white baseball team. Black people were not allowed to sit in the stands at the new stadium. Rev. E.B. Holloway and his neighbors protested the decision and requested a new park for Black children. In 1939 Greenville City Council promised Holloway a park, but the promise faded from the city’s priority list.
Mayberry and Meadowbrook Parks desegregated in the mid-1960s, according to longtime Greenville resident Mary Duckett. Meadowbrook Park burned down in 1972, but Mayberry Park continued to be a popular spot, especially among the local African American community, despite its limited amenities.
“Today we redeem a promise of 80 years,” Mayor Knox White said on May 19 at the opening ceremony for Unity Park, which includes the areas where both the all-Black Mayberry Park and all-white Meadowbrook Park once stood.
Rev. Byron Battle Sr., senior pastor at Greenville’s Tabernacle Baptist Church, spoke optimistically about Unity Park at the opening ceremony. “What a beautiful picture this is. I’m convinced this is what heaven is going to look like when we all come together.”
Controversy and housing plans
Some critics worried the park would contribute to gentrification, which occurs when individuals from higher social classes move into a community and displace the original residents who cannot afford the higher property costs.
White has acknowledged gentrification as a legitimate concern and took steps to minimize any negative impact on lower-income residents. In 2018 he said, “We’re more aware now that ‘OK, we build this park, it’s going to gentrify.’” At Unity Park’s opening ceremony, White discussed plans to donate eight acres of nearby land to affordable housing projects.
The city plans to build five affordable housing areas close to the park and created the Unity Park Character Code in 2020, which it hopes will spur more housing efforts, beginning with housing for seniors. Like Falls Park on the Reedy, which opened in 2004, Unity Park centers around the Reedy River, which flows through downtown Greenville.
To build the park, the city restored a half-mile section of the Reedy River that flows through the park, and the city plans to restore a wetlands area where the Reedy River originally ran until 1933 when it was redirected.
Unity Park is open 5 a.m.-11 p.m. every day