Forest Park celebrated the 50th anniversary of its park and recreation services Saturday with a big blowout at Starr Park.
Hundreds of people showed up to enjoy birthday cake, jump around in a bouncy house, dance the Electric Slide and sing karaoke. There were contests for corn-shucking and watermelon-eating, sack and three-legged races, and an inflatable “rock mountain” for adventurous youngsters.
Kids got colorful designs painted on their chubby cheeks, self-conscious grown-ups sat for pencil-drawn portraits and vendors sold items as diverse as bagged socks and marionette puppets. There was barbecue, Brunswick stew and snow cones. There was even a clown who made balloon animals, and juggled balls and bowling pins.
As it is also an election year, several candidates showed up to do a little campaigning, nothing overt or intrusive. The mayor made an appearance to read and issue a proclamation to the director of parks and recreation who, amazingly enough, has been with the department from its 1963 inception.
Congratulations, Elaine Corley, on achieving the almost unheard of status of staying with one employer for 50 years, not to mention being part of the driving force that reclaimed swampland for development into a recreation site that ought to be the envy of other municipalities.
In other words, Saturday’s event was an old-fashioned, small town festival, the likes of which every Clayton County resident should experience at least once a year. The only thing lacking Saturday was the sight of the tomboy Scout whirling around in a tire swing or sauntering with brother Jeb and pal Dill into town to visit the county courthouse to watch their dad, Atticus Finch, at work.
Despite the fact that, nowadays, most people do have places to go and things to buy with money they do have, there is nothing like spending the day at a festival right in your own backyard. When was the last time you set aside a Saturday afternoon, put off that trip to the mall and took a break from social media to rub elbows with your neighbors and enjoy the simpler things in life?
What is wonderful about Forest Park is that officials take advantage of the city’s resources throughout the year to spotlight events for the whole family. There seems to be always something fun happening at Starr Park — just check the parks and recreation’s action-packed calendar.
For example, there is a 5K Autumn Fun Run/Walk Sept. 28, Community Yard Sale Oct. 5, Autumn Festival Oct. 19, Halloween Carnival Oct. 31, Veterans Day ceremonies Nov. 11, Christmas Celebration Dec. 2 and breakfast and pictures with Santa Dec. 7. Families can even register with the department for a personal call from Santa.
Although I was there Saturday to cover the festivities for the newspaper, I had a great time and came away wondering why more towns don’t hold events that bring people together in a wholesome atmosphere of plain and simple fun?
Saturday’s celebration wasn’t about making or raising money or cramming in as many vendors as the park could hold, it was about small town fellowship and getting to know each other as neighbors.
We need more small town festivals to drag us out of our insulated cocoons and introspective lives. We need more balloon animals and snow cones and less Farmville and Candy Crush Saga. We need to experience the freedom of getting up in front of a crowd of people and dancing like no one is watching just because the DJ is playing our song.
Ask your city and county leaders what is holding them back from planning events like Forest Park’s and be prepared to challenge any negative responses.
Then send in the clowns.
Kathy Jefcoats is a senior reporter whose primary beat includes covering Clayton County crime and courts but who also writes about Forest Park. She is a veteran, award-winning journalist who believes she is lucky enough to have the best job in the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.