When I was in middle school, on the weekends, my best friend, my sister, and I would bike ride three miles to Metropolitan Park. Metro park was heaven on earth for most of the kids in my neighborhood. It was a place for everyone to be wild and free from our school and home lives. You made friends so quickly because you all shared in the freedom and adventure of riding through Jacksonville’s rugged downtown. There was never any question of what the plan was when Saturday came. We’d spend hours biking along the St. John’s River, having bike races beneath the Hart Bridge Expressway, and playing on the empty stage. With very little security and adult supervision at Metro Park, we were alive, wild, and free. Fifteen years later, I visit the place that made our childhood magical. I see only an investment in the death of childhood fun.
The city of Jacksonville is adamant about tourism and catering to our NFL team’s fans. So much that they painted Jaguar pawprints on the main streets around the stadium to appear, “festive.” Not exactly the word I would use, but whatever, right? Anyway, you drive the curved street around the stadium until you get to the entrance of the park indicated by a sign. Unfortunately, the metal gate behind it is closed, like most of the entries going along the park. There is only one way into the park, and it makes you do some zig-zag dance to finally getting to the parking lot. The first parking lot you come to is, of course, for anyone using the marina. So now you have to go back out the way you came to find the right lot to park. I didn’t have time for that so I just parked. (Hehe.) I grabbed my travel writing journal and prepared to be taken back in time to my favorite place, unfortunately, that was not the case at all.
The renovations to the park made the park seem… tamed. In the eyes of teens, the land was wild and barren. It was a haven for bike riders, skateboarders, and kids who just wanted to play. Now, it was a place for people who just wanted to walk around and sit on benches to gaze at the scenery. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What in the hell is this?” The park screams boring and antisocial but visually “pretty.” The fishermen were yards away from each other attending to their equipment. It was Sunday, and the park was as lifeless as a cemetery. I remember Saturday, and Sundays were filled with bodies. Families having parties and BBQ, skateboarders doing tricks on whatever rail they could find, and bikers racing down the winding sidewalk. Now, I was looking at a multi-million dollar dead zone.
Granted, I may have come on a quiet day. The NFL Jacksonville Jaguars team wasn’t playing Sunday so I suppose that’s the reason for the lack of attendees at the park, but it’s Metro Park! This park was the heart of the city, the creme de la creme of parks. It didn’t have fancy jungle gyms or slides, but it was the place where your imagination created fun. Now, all the cute hedges and paved walkways make it another tourist attraction and profit for the city. My childhood memories swiped away with a signature.
“Life is about change. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But most of the time it’s both. ” – Lana Lang
I realize the city’s need to improve and upgrade their property. Tourism is a major payday to any growing city. A lot of programs and services probably depend on that income. Change is inevitable. Change exists in every aspect of human life. I am not a bike-riding teenager anymore. I am a working tax-paying adult. The old Metropolitan Park will always live in my memories and that will be enough, I hope.