Written by Ashley Davis
Clean Memphis and Memphis Beautiful are partnering to feature Park Adopters, individuals or organizations that help to keep our parks clean, vibrant and fun for the whole family. Chris Collier started the Friends of Gaisman Park in 2013 and has tirelessly worked to beautify the neighborhood gem.
Now, major improvements are on the way for Gaisman Park, including a new, 22,000 square foot facility. The multi-million dollar project will include a fitness center, community room, art space, game room, a small conference room and a gymnasium with an elevated walking track.
We sat down with Chris and learned more about how he became a park adopter and why he always believed in the park’s potential.
You moved to the Highland Heights neighborhood in 2013 and then started Friends of Gaisman Park. What made you decide to become a park adopter?
Well, we were having one of our first community events at the park and a young lady said ‘You should adopt the park. You’re already doing the work.’ So, I officially became the park adopter.
I just saw so much potential in this park–all it needed was some love.
I love that. You saw the park’s potential. So, do you think the park is reaching its potential now? What do you hope to see next?
Honestly, before the pandemic, I thought we were on track for most of the goals. Our soccer program was robust. People were returning to the park and the community center. Our Saturdays were jam-packed with available programming – everything from youth basketball to dance classes to Desayuno con Libros, an event that encourages Latino families to read books in their native language over breakfast.
Then Covid came. People stopped coming to the parks. Although we did several food distribution events, I started to reimagine what the park could be.
Then we got news that we received the funding from Accelerate Memphis, thanks to the hard work of Mayor Strickland and his team. So, now with over 12 million dollars towards a new community center, developed soccer fields and an increased walking path, Gaisman Park can really reach its full potential.
You’ve already done some amazing things in Gaisman Park. I read that you’ve removed over 100,000 gallons of litter, planted over 500 flowers and recruited more than 500 volunteers. What are some of the things you and your team have accomplished in your local park?
Over the years, we’ve painted park benches, built 7 flowerbeds and planted over 30 trees. We also have received over $64,000 in grants from the County Commission and Community Lift. We also worked to install the soccer goals. Now, we manage the mowing of the soccer fields and maintain our mini kick soccer pitches.
All of these improvements could not have happened without the help of Memphis Parks. Their support and commitment have truly been overwhelming. In the ten years I’ve been a park adopter, they have removed old structures, improved and expanded the walking trails, replaced our picnic tables, and helped to refurbish our playground. They also, of course, are now playing a huge part in the upcoming renovations as well.
So, you’ve shared a lot of the highlights happening at Gaisman Park. What are some of the challenges that green spaces like Gaisman face today?
Parks bring our communities together and, if maintained properly, green spaces build a sense of pride in neighborhoods.
So, we have to address the litter problem. I think it really can be maintained. Once you effectively address litter, I think it will be easier to create spaces that are safe, well-maintained and attractive to visitors.
What do you love about Gaisman? What is your favorite thing to do while you’re there?
This may sound crazy but I like to drink three cups of coffee, get in the golf cart, turn on some music and pick up whatever litter didn’t make it to the trash cans. At first, I used to kind of resent it. But then I realized this is just something that needs to be done everyday, so I make it fun. I also try to smile, meet as many neighbors as possible and get them involved too.
You know, I love just about everything about the park. I like looking at the sights of majestic trees and hearing the sounds of children playing. It’s cool to watch families enjoy the park together.
Check back for more stories on Park Adopters at www.cleanmemphis.com. Interested in becoming a park adopter? Click here to learn more!