When it was finally time to celebrate the first part of Orme Park’s long-awaited facelift, joyful neighbors were not about to let a little thing like Saturday’s sweltery heat get in the way.
As the crowd of about 150 waited for the official ribbon-cutting, many sought shady spots along the 6.6-acre park’s curvy new granite wall. They watched kids play on the relocated playscape, parents push their little ones on swings, the pile of covered dishes for the day’s picnic grow.
From a perch on Brookridge Drive above, Faye Webster, 13, played guitar and sang – covers and originals – until it came time to pass the microphone to organizers of the day’s festivities, who wanted to name names and give thanks to all those who had made this first phase of the much-loved park’s improvements possible.
“Ten years ago, a grassroots group of people formed Friends of Orme Park,” said Pamela Papner, president of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association. “They did little fundraisers….and over 10 years, raised more than $20,000.”
That work was the seed for all the money that followed, Papner said – from the Virginia-Highland Conservation League, the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, Park Pride and the City of Atlanta. Without the original group of seven – Dawn Shipp, Peter Bade, Alice Gepp, Victoria Talley, Ryan and Katie Healan and Bill Gilmore – none of the new features everyone was admiring on Saturday might ever have come to pass.
Papner thanked other crucial partners in the City of Atlanta, including former councilwoman Anne Fauver, assuring her that, “this never would have happened without your support,” as well as Park Pride.
Allison Barnett, Park Pride’s associate director, told the residents they needed to also thank themselves, for doggedly keeping their goals in mind.
“This is an excellent example of what happens when a community is really dedicated to a park,” she said. “This park is a reflection of your commitment.”
When it was Fauver’s turn to speak, she said she couldn’t help but notice how much had changed.
“My first experience of Orme Park was 20 years ago, when I was walking my dog [here] and there weren’t many children,” she said. “Now, the reverse is true: There are lots of children, and not many dogs.”
Which got laughs – and started the crowd’s procession to the park’s new main entrance, where a fat red ribbon stretched between new black railings. Hands large and small grabbed scissors and waited for the cue to cut.
“It has been a long time coming,” said Victoria Talley with a laugh. “But a lot came together in the last 48 hours.”
The contractors worked late into Friday night, she said, to finish up the railing.
Dawn Shipp, another one of the park’s earliest volunteers, said it gave her great pleasure to see how far everything has come.
“Every time you do the work,” she said, “and when you see the kids and parents down there…” She stopped for a second, visibly moved. “You can see you’ve built a community.”