CLIFTON FORGE — A group of volunteers is working alongside the Clifton Forge Public Works Department to continue with making additional major renovations to 86-year-old Washington Park, a historic setting located in the eastern part of town on Main Street near downtown.

The Friends of Washing-ton Park organization hopes to raise at least $30,000 to complete Phase II of the park’s makeover.

One of the main features will be a 30 x 40 pavilion to be erected on the large paved area that has been used for tennis courts. There will be room left over for other activities on the paved area, such as cornhole games. The pavilion is expected to be completed by spring.

The pavilion will be named after the late Rev. Matthew Barnette, a longtime local religious and humanitarian leader. The project is under way and initial construction costs have been obtained. The Friends group is continuing to raise funds for the park improvements.

Other renovations will include an upgrade of the restroom facilities, improved parking to accommodate large families, groups and organizations. The pavilion will be wheelchair accessible, and there will be an area for grills.

There are already two picnic shelters — which will be refurbished and upgraded — and a gazebo, plus some playground equipment, that were installed during the first phrase of renovations to the park.

Washington Park was named after well-known African-American and native Virginian Booker T. Washington, an educator, author, orator and adviser to multiple presidents.

He is probably best known for founding Tuskegee  University and the National Negro Business League.

The park has been an active recreational and gathering place for the Clifton Forge community — as well as serving as a playground and practice field for the all-Black Jefferson High School, and later, for the East Elementary School —for many years.

“The park is safe and strategically located on a main entrance into town,” notes John Grimes, one of the members of the Friends group. “It’s on the path of The Alleghany Foundation’s Corridor Curb Appeal and the entrance of the Hazel Run walking path.”

The Friends group, which also includes Rodney Brown, Evelyn Cooper, Patty Davis-Ross, Wanda Davis and Catherine Williams (all natives of Clifton Forge) has been meeting for several months in order to plan and make possible the design, construction and fundraising for the improvements.

“It has so much historical value,” said Grimes. “So many children learned to ride their bikes here, and many sports teams practiced and played in this park. The park is so important to our community.”

The first phase, completed in 2017, included building the gazebo, construction of a small shelter near the picnic shelter, picnic tables, landscaping, improved parking and a concrete slab for an existing shelter.

In addition to working closely with Clifton Forge Public Works and the town’s Finance Department, the Friends group is also working with other community organizations.

“We felt like this park had been neglected for so long,” says Evelyn Cooper. “And we want it to be for everybody.”

A large gathering of as many as 200 friends, neighbors and relatives has been using Washington Park as a reunion site every summer  — except this one — since 2012, Cooper noted. The new pavilion will make similar gatherings and reunions even more possible and appealing, she said.

Patty Davis-Ross, another member of the Friends, said she remembers using Washington Park for physical education classes. 

“I heard about the work of the Friends group and was interested in helping out,” she said.

All funding will be from private donations and not town funds, added Brown. The group is working in close partnership with the town for oversight, transparency and accountability. 

“We’ll be reporting monthly to the town,” he said. “This park is going to be for the whole town.”

The park renovation project has already received some donations, and anyone wishing to make a donation, designated for the Washington Park Project, may mail them to the Town of Clifton Forge, 547 Main St., Clifton Forge, Va. 24422, or visit Town Hall, where there is a drop box located in front of the building.

Donations will not go into the town’s general fund or be used for any purpose other than the park renovations.

For more information contact the Clifton Forge Town Manager’s office at (540) 863-2500.


(Thumbnail Photo) One of the improvements planned for historic Washington Park in Clifton Forge is a 30 x 40 pavilion to be erected on the pavement that once served as tennis courts, shown in the background behind the playground equipment. (Photo Courtesy Judy Clark)

(Article Only Photo) The Friends of Washington Park organization has been working closely with officials from the town of Clifton Forge toward starting a second phase of renovations for the historic community facility. Seated, from left: Evelyn Cooper; Reba Mohler, town manager; Patty Davis-Ross. Standing: Lewis Tallman, Clifton Forge Public Works; Ricky Bourne, public works director; Rodney Brown; John Grimes. Donations for the project are now being accepted. For more information contact the town manager’s office at (540) 863-2500. (Photo Courtesy Judy Clark)