PHENIX CITY, Ala. (WRBL) — A small group of city officials and citizens gathered at the new Poplar Springs Park in Phenix City on Tuesday to celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony. City Manager Wallace B. Hunter said in an interview that the park took about a year and a half to create. It features a playground, a paved walking trail and a basketball court in the back.

“And we plan to add to this,” Hunter said. “We’re going to add picnic tables. We’ve got a lot of stuff to add to it.”

At the ceremony, Economic Development Manager Shaun Culligan said that people are “completely bound” to screens, which keeps them isolated and inactive.

“And so, projects like this are those things that completely do the opposite and blow those things completely out of the water,” he said. “And they get people out. They get people active. They get people to gather, to create community, to get to know one another, to meet their neighbors and to be in a place that’s safe to be able to do this. So it’s projects like this that I get excited about.”

Phenix City Director of Parks and Recreation Todd Hughes thanked Phenix City Mayor Eddie N. Lowe, the Phenix City Council and City Manager Hunter for their work on the project.

“This was a vision that the city manager’s had for quite some time,” he said. “Long before any of this was here, it was just a wooded area, a couple of old houses … It wasn’t something that was just dreamt up overnight.”

Hughes said the Parks and Recreation department couldn’t have completed the project without the help of the Phenix City Engineering and Public Works department. He also thanked his own staff and others for their work. He said Landmark Grading Company and Phenix Paving created the walking track.

Hunter said what is now the park used to be known as Ku Klux Hill.

“This was where crosses were burnt years ago, and people right in the middle of a neighborhood that you couldn’t go to. We’re a long ways from that, y’all. At the same time, it became a great baseball field and a place where a lot of people raised families at and loved one another. And you had a good union of people of all races and everything else that blended to make this place the way it is.”

Hunter said giving children places to play and interact leads them to develop love for each other.

Above, Phenix City’s City Manager Wallace B. Hunter speaks in front of the playground.

“We’ve got to fight back to take our communities back and put them the way they should be,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do here – take beautified places throughout the city like on Seale Road, the park we did that, that was done by city labor. Dillingham Street – that was done by city labor … So we are going throughout the city, the entire city, to beautify the city.”

Hunter said that community members, in addition to Public Works and the Parks and Recreation department, would need to help keep Phenix City parks clean.

“One of the things we always talk about is inclusion of people in this community,” Mayor Lowe said. “I would tell you this – just this morning, we had our council meeting and approved some things and some more things as Mr. Hunter stated about beautification of Phenix City.”

Lowe said that that morning, he had challenged the city council and community members to respond to each negative comment with 10 positive ones.

“But I have to say this – now we can push back with 11 things because what’s taking place here is another positive thing that we’ve done for Phenix City for the quality of life,” he said. “And I’ve challenged them – we have to push back with love. You have to push back with wholesomeness. You have to push back with integrity.”

Lowe said the park showed how far the community had come.

“The only way we can keep moving forward is through connectivity regardless of ethnicity, regardless of what religions we are, regardless of what culture,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the holistic approach of moving our community forward.”

District 2 City Councilwoman Vickey Carter Johnson said it was a beautiful day because God had allowed her and the audience to be where they were. She thanked Lowe for his kindness and love for the community. She thanked Hunter for the vision he had some time ago about what it would take to move the community forward. She also thanked Hunter’s staff for their work.

Johnson said the park’s grand opening was bittersweet for her. She said her father had played baseball on the back of the land. She anticipated people making new memories at the park.

“It’s all about feeding back and giving back to our community,” she said. “And that’s one thing that I wanted to make sure that I do as a councilmember, is to make sure that we reinvest back into our community.”

Johnson thanked the director of the Phenix City Housing Authority and his staff and citizens, saying they played a major role in creating the park.

“It’s about 76 units across the way that those children, those adults will come around and be able to have experiences right on this playground,” she said.

She said it would be up to everyone to make sure the park wouldn’t be vandalized or become unsafe.

“And we plan to have some picnics one day ‘round here,” she said. “I don’t see picnic tables, but we’re going to get there.”

Johnson said the walking trail would be good for physical fitness and dog-walking. She said a closing prayer.

After everyone gathered behind the red ribbon in front of the playground, Johnson cut the ribbon with a large pair of scissors.

Poplar Springs Park is located in the 1000 block of 14th Avenue in Phenix City.