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Lucedale City Park to Become Arboretum

Lucedale

Lucedale City Park draws countless visitors for a multitude of interests. One more drawing card has been added to its features as it will soon become a certified arboretum.

Last weekend provided perfect weather for volunteers to plant 86 trees of various species native to George County. This effort increased the diversity of trees inside the park from 22 species to 36 species. The project was made possible by the Mississippi Urban Forest Council (MUFC) in conjunction with the City of Lucedale and several sponsors.

On hand for the event were Mayor Darwin Nelson, MUFC Director Donna Yowell, Dr. Mark LaSalle and numerous tree-loving citizens. A plant and insect expert, LaSalle was contracted by MUFC to coordinate arboretums as well as pollinator gardens in the southern part of the state. Funding is provided through grants from Canadian National Railroad and America in Bloom. Lucedale’s park is the first publicly owned arboretum on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Crosby Arboretum in Picayune is owned by Mississippi State University. Twelve others are scattered across northern and central parts of the state.

Another City Park project somewhat similar to the arboretum effort will be the addition of a pollinator garden in the east end of the park near the red bridge. It’s a section difficult to mow because of wetness. According to LaSalle this garden will attract more than butterflies and will include buttonbush, groundsel and other plants that love wet spots.

The great big hole near the city’s center that we affectionately call City Park was donated many moons ago by the Luce family. The site wasn’t suited for farming or constructing buildings; yet it made the perfect park. Throughout the years, a host of visionaries have put on their thinking caps, and the park has gradually evolved into a little paradise.

The luscious green hillsides are not only fun for children to run and roll down, they also make terrific spots for picnics. When Dana Nelson moved to Lucedale in the late 1980s her mind’s eye saw the park as a natural stage. Her vision evolved into Shakespeare in the Park, an annual affair that took place throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. An accomplished performing artist, Nelson directed the event consisting of a series of scenes from plays written by the great bard.

This “hole” is a God-made amphitheater. Like Nelson, Jay and Kim Davis also visualized big things in the park. The couple spearheaded Lucedale’s famous Praise in the Park, an annual Christian music festival that has drawn thousands and thousands of people to hear big-name contemporary gospel artists. The hillside provides natural seating for events such as this one staged at the foot of the hill.

The late Jim Corley left his legacy all over the park. An engineer and an artist, Corley designed the concrete Elizabethan theater behind the pavilion and lined the seating area with tiles made by George County students. He also designed the veterans’ memorial sun dial, war memorial firepit, splash pad and red bridge.

In addition to theatrics and trees, the park features the old city jail, an historic schoolhouse, a fun playground, grilling stations and the county’s only tennis courts. The city is currently working on resurfacing those courts and on building a permanent stage for big events.

In a few weeks signage about the trees will be installed and sometime within the next year, after the trees have become established, MUFC will certify the park as an arboretum.

And we’ll all have one more good reason to play in the park.

Report

Written by Nancy Jo Maples

Nancy Jo Maples is an award-winning journalist who has written about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. A former daily staff news reporter for the Mississippi Press, she currently writes for various media and teaches communication at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Reach her at [email protected]

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