By Dedra Cordle
The sight of a concrete slab does not often cause an individual to go into a frenzied state, but some who live in the village of Urbancrest could barely contain their excitement when they discovered that a section had recently been poured in a local park.
The buzz surrounding this area in question began to quietly hum when the village installed a new playground for the local children nearly six years ago. Although some of the older youths within the community were pleased to see this new amenity being created, they asked when the village would build something to accommodate their interests as well.
Upon hearing their pleas, Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. reached out to these pre-teens, teenagers, and other young adults and offered a compromise.
“I told them that if they would keep an eye out on this new playground, if they would help maintain it and make sure that it wasn’t being abused, that I would work to get an outdoor fitness area that was filled with equipment that they would be able to use.”
He said when he made this suggestion, their faces lit up like “little lightbulbs.”
“They asked if I was serious, if I was pulling their leg, if we could really do something like that,” said Barnes. “And I told them it was absolutely something we could do – just as long as they keep their end of the bargain and watch this playground (in Martin Luther King Park).”
In late 2019, the village council unanimously approved a resolution that would establish an outdoor fitness park for the community. They had hoped it would be built the following summer.
And then came the coronavirus pandemic.
In the early months of 2020, most play areas throughout the country were closed to slow the spread of the respiratory illness. Then came a slew of disruptions to the global supply chain, some of which are still affecting the world to this day.
When public play areas began to open up once again, village officials started to hear from these young adults who were still holding them to the promise of creating an outdoor fitness park for them to use.
They said they were not sure what to tell them – until recently, that is.
Last month, a small construction crew came out to Martin Luther King Park and cordoned off a section of land adjacent to the playground structure. Inquiring minds wanted to know what was being built, but village officials just told them to wait and see.
In early November, the digging of the ground commenced, as did the construction of the concrete slab. Eagle eyed youths kept accosting Barnes and street commissioner Jerome Johnson, demanding to know what was being installed.
They said when they were informed that a new outdoor fitness park was being created, shrieks could be heard throughout the community.
“It has been a long time coming, and it’s been full of delays and things that were out of our control, but I am so pleased to be able to say that the outdoor fitness park is finally here in the village of Urbancrest,” said Barnes.
The Fitness Zone at Martin Luther King Park has 11 workout stations set up for individual strength and conditioning needs. Some of the equipment can be used solo, while some are designed to be used with a buddy, or multiple buddies. They include a squat press, a chest press, a sit up bench and abdominal toner, shoulder wheel, and another abdominal and dip station. A majority of the equipment within the Fitness Zone meets federal guidelines through the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The use of the Fitness Zone equipment is free to the public, and individuals are encouraged to bring their own towels and disinfectant wipes to clean the machinery as they will not be provided. Although the fitness park was created in part for the young adults in the community, it is open to all ages but children under the age of 14 need to be accompanied by an adult.
With the creation of the outdoor fitness park, Barnes said he is excited about the future of the community and the health of those who reside in the area.
“I know there are many people out there who want to work on their fitness but maybe they can’t afford to go to the gym,” he said. “But here in this park, we have a track to work on your cardio and we now have equipment at the fitness zone where you can work on your strength and conditioning.”
He said he hopes that this new amenity will help Martin Luther King Park become even more of a destination hub for the local community and the greater region as a whole.
“A park should be a place of community, a place where everyone has something to do, and a place where people can get to know each other,” he said. “And I do believe that all of that can be found here within this village park.”
The Martin Luther King Park Fitness Zone will be open from dusk to dawn. It is located adjacent to the Vaughn E. Hairston Southwest Community Center, 3500 First Ave., and the Village Administration Building, 3492 First Ave.