Whether it’s a local hiking trail or the shaded solitude of my own backyard, I yearn to be surrounded by open spaces.
The same principle applies when I hit the concrete of our bustling downtown. I seek out areas where I can sit among trees or have a glimpse of nature. And we are very fortunate to have a wealth of parks available within the downtown footprint, including Winston Square Park.
Winston Square Park, at 310 Marshall St., is adjacent to the Sawtooth School, Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts and the YMCA condos. It serves as an impressive passageway between Marshall and Spruce Streets, and is a magnet for those looking to take a moment to enjoy the peace of an urban park.
First conceived and constructed in the early 1980s, Winston Square Park was the result of a Winston-Salem Arts Council campaign. The bones of the park include a massive Japanese waterfall garden, a winding cat walk, a stage and amphitheater. The park was managed by the Arts Council until the early 2000s and is now part of the Winston-Salem Recreation and Parks Department.
As the park is now almost 40 years old, local residents began to see that it needed a few changes, upgrades and attention. So they decided to jump into action and get the ball rolling on these urgent and overdue issues.
This past June, YMCA Condo residents Mary Margaret Smith and Desiree Payne along with Amy Jordan, the executive director of the Sawtooth School, recognized that there were health and safety concerns within the park. So Smith organized a meeting between various persons and organizations that resulted in the creation of the Winston Square Park Coalition, a group dedicated to revamping the park and focusing on landscape and planting upgrades. The coalition has developed a private-public partnership with the City of Winston-Salem, and is making strides this winter with landscape goals.
Smith worked with the Garden Club Council of Winston-Salem Forsyth County to secure grants for new plant material. Along with local garden designer Sprigg Parker, Smith has formulated a design for the park’s garden, which will add color, biodiversity and a punch of life back into the hardscape.
“I had noticed that there was nothing living out there, no birds, no butterflies, nothing,” said Smith about the park. “The beautification grant that the garden club council awarded to the coalition is the start of creating a softer, more alive feeling to the park.”
“Going forward, we plan to partner not only with the city, but also the Native Plant Society, the Audubon Society, and the Forsyth County Extension office to create a habitat brimming with biodiversity right in the center of downtown for all to experience and enjoy.”
Nestled among the waterfall and surrounding boulder landscape are multiple planter boxes and containers. Unbeknownst to Smith and Winston-Salem Recreation and Parks representatives, these boxes were discovered when they began discussion of planting. They will serve as vessels for many new plants that will soften the stone.
Smith and Parker’s plant choices are based on the lushness of a mature Japanese water garden. It will include a mixture of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, Japanese maples, flowering shrubs, herbaceous perennials, bamboo and existing trees. The plan is to do plantings in stages, with the first just having been installed.
“We’re going to start planting the empty boxes,” Smith said. “Then assuming those are filled and the plants are thriving, I will apply for another grant. I want to take the waterfall garden to the next level by consulting someone who is an expert in water gardens. Originally, there were fish and water lilies in the garden.”
Jason Thiel, the president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, has been very involved in the Winston Square Park Coalition. Thiel, along with William Royston, the director of Recreation and Parks, and Renata Owens, the Interim Recreation and Parks superintendent, have embraced the energy of the coalition and have made tremendous steps to improve all tenets for a successful urban park.
The National Recreation and Park Association has established several key tenets, which the coalition, Royston and Owens have addressed at Winston Square Park. They include clear sight lines, good maintenance, signage, lighting, surveillance, programmed activities, community involvement and improving the environment.
“The current landscaping plans are a great example of how the City of Winston-Salem and a collective of nearby stakeholders — in this case called the Winston Square Park Coalition — can work together in a true public private partnership to shine a light on the very rich history and origins of this great space,” Thiel said.
Between Marshall Street and the top of Winston Square Park’s amphitheater is a flagpole garden dedicated to four Winston-Salem Distinguished Women in the Arts. Along with established signage and a meandering foot wall, new plantings have been installed by Recreation and Parks staff to spruce up this space. Colorful nandina, evergreen distylium and prolific perennial dianthus have all been planted to soften the entrance to the park.
Over the course of the last six months, Winston Square Park has received more attention than it has in the last 20 years. Without the cooperation between park neighbors and city staff, this park may have become an underutilized green space. Instead, it’s received a jump-start.
“The beautification efforts directly support the cty’s efforts to work with residents to enhance our parks and create unique experiences for everyone,” Owens said. “It’s also a testament to show how various city departments are working with the community to improve the quality of life throughout our park system.”
Other plans for Winston Square Park include cascading plantings on the catwalk, finding solutions for shade, and more signage. Although the water is turned off to the waterfall during winter months, the park is always open and available to the public.