CLIFTON FORGE — In August of 2020, a group of committed citizens, the Friends of Washington Park Committee, kicked off a planning and fundraising effort to enhance and restore Booker T. Washington Park, located on the main entrance corridor to Clifton Forge.

The kickoff is a Phase 2 effort. Repairs and a massive cleanup occurred in 2017 by a Phase 1 grass-roots fundraising and public works initiative with the town working closely in conjunction with community residents.

While working on the Phase 1 initial cleanup, several needs were identified to make the park more versatile and relevant to residents’ wishes.

Those needs include a 30-foot by 40-foot picnic pavilion, additional picnic tables and grills; improved signage, landscaping, and a 40’ x 40’ concrete slab.

Due to fundraising efforts by Friends of Washington Park and community residents, the picnic pavilion has been realized.

A?C.T. Wolfe Construction crew built the pavilion in a matter of days despite the onerous weather.

Carl T. “Shorty” Wolfe Jr., C.T. Wolfe Construction owner, donated his time and machinery. His crew was paid with funds that were donated to Friends of Washington Park.

The goals of the Friends of Washington Park are to restore and enhance the park for community use by repairing the equipment that is currently being used in the park, and to work collaboratively with the town of Clifton Forge.

A fundraising goal of $32,000 has been set in order to restore existing park equipment and to build what is required. The Friends of Washington Park committee has raised over $22,000 to date.  

The restrooms have been restored by public works with new toilet and faucets.  The doors, which are compliant with ADA?(Americans with Disabilities Act), have been ordered and will be installed upon arrival.

Work on Booker T. Washington Park began 86 years ago with the desire to create a playground for neighborhood children. The playground and athletic field were officially named Booker T. Washington Park in 1946.

A letter from C. A. Smith and E. A. Mansfield recommended that the name of the playground be named Booker T. Washington Park after Booker T. Washington, who was a native of Virginia.

Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee Ala., was an educator, author, orator and adviser to multiple United States presidents. The recommendation was approved by council.

Booker T. Washington Park is special to many.  Clifton Forge native Lillie Hughes remembered, “We used to call the park ‘The Hollow’ before it was named Booker T. Washington Park.  It was my childhood playground.

“I attended Jefferson High School for 11 grades, and graduated in 1949. We’d walk to the park every day for recess. We also had a girls’ softball team, and May Day celebrations where we would wrap the May pole.  The rock benches on the side of the hill were built by my uncle, Robert Burrell, when he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps.  He also helped build Green Pastures Park.

“We received lots of joy from going to the park — a bakery was located at the top of the hill and the smells were wonderful. We were a happy group, and loved every day,” she concluded.

The next project for the park will be the large slab. Other improvements will include grills, signage and trash cans.

The Corridor Curb Appeal Committee is working with Friends of Washington Park to install a book trail that will highlight one of the 14 books that Booker T. Washington authored. Quotes from “Up From Slavery” will be featured on the book trail signs.

The enhancement and restoration of Washington Park will take the community’s commitment, but as Booker T. Washington said, “The happiest people are those who do the most for others.  The most miserable are those who do the least.”

The Friends of Washington Park committee members are Rodney Brown, Evelyn Cooper, Wanda Davis, John Grimes, Patty Davis Ross and Catherine Williams.

Completion of Phase 2 improvements are scheduled for late spring.

To donate to the Friends of Washington Park project, a Go Fund Me fundraising post can be found on Clifton Forge Main Street’s Facebook page.

Donations can also be sent to Washington Park Project, Town of Clifton Forge, 547 Main St., Clifton Forge, Va. 24422, or visit town hall and use the drop box located in front of the building. Donations will be separated from the town’s general fund for the purpose of park renovations.

For more information on donating, please contact the Clifton Forge Town Manager’s office at 863-2500.

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Despite the recent winter weather, construction crews have been busy framing and building a new picnic pavilion at Booker T. Washington Park in Clifton Forge. The 30-foot by 40-foot pavilion was constructed by a crew from C.T. Wolfe Construction. Owner Carl T. “Shorty” Wolfe donated his time and equipment, while his crew was compensated through funds donated to Friends of Washington Park. Other improvements included in the restoration of the park are additional picnic tables and grills, improved signage, landscaping and a concrete slab. The goals of the Friends of Washington Park are to restore and enhance the park for community use through a collaborative effort with the town of Clifton Forge. (Photos Courtesy Friends of Washington Park)