Metropolitan Park: Death of Childhood Fun

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.

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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.

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The Secluded View at the Dames Point Park

After a crazy week, I figured it was time for a little go away trip for the day. I had photography project I wanted to get on board with so I decided to take myself to one of my favorite parks, the Dames Point Park. It is named after Jacksonville’s infamous and beloved suspension bridge, the Dames Point.

Ever since I was little, every year I begged my mother to drive me across the Dames Point for my birthday, and she did. There was no feeling like seeing it coming in the distance and your heart pounds with excitement. You feel yourself stop breathing as the cables wash over your car and recede into the rearview. The view at the peak of the bridge is the cargo shipyard. Massive ships docked and settled ready for launch.

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There is a park beneath the bridge which has turned into a memorial ground for the victims of the El Fargo tragedy back in 2015 when a cargo ship capsized after traveling in waters stirred up by a hurricane.

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The park is simple with benches and a picnic area and a great view of the beautiful bridge towering over you. If you’re lucky, you can catch cargo ships coming into port and leaving. Unfortunately, the bridge used for a better view and fishing has been damaged by Hurricane Irma. It could be a while before it will be repaired due to inspections and such.

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To get to the Dames Point park can see a little tricky. The GPS will lead you to a road that is permanently closed. It is best to keep doing down the road until you get to a three-way stop and turn right. It’s a winding road but it’s a direct route into the actual park. It’s hidden location makes for a peaceful and secluded resting area to clear your head or like me, work on my watercoloring. 🙂