Peabody Park at UNCG: What Does the Future Hold?

Feature news story, News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 10 February 2001. Five photos and a map, not reproduced here, showed scenes from Peabody Park and the Park’s location on the UNCG campus.

Peabody Park: What does the future hold for this shrinking, 100-year-old natural resource at UNCG?

GREENSBORO—They say you shrink as you get older. Peabody Park, a little-known swath of nature at UNCG, proves it.

The park, which hugs the northern edge of the campus along West Market Street, turns 100 years old this year, and it’s a fraction of its original 130 acres.

Just how much smaller is a point of disagreement. Some university officials say the park is 17 wooded acres between the new music building, at West Market and McIver streets, and the university entrance at West Market Street and Gray Drive. Others say the park is the woods plus 17 acres of open area that includes a small golf course.

However you count it, the shriveled centenarian is still vital. It blooms and chirps with wild plants and animals. Some of them, such as the yellow-crowned night heron, are rather rare in Guilford County.

The park also holds much history. Union soldiers probably camped in it at the end of the Civil War. Almost 40 years later, after the land became part of the State Normal and Industrial College, Warren Manning designed Peabody Park there. Manning was a protege of famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park.

When Peabody Park was young, a biologist named T. Gilbert Pearson traipsed the woods and fields. He later founded the N.C. Audubon Society, and he helped to start the National Audubon Society.

During his walks, Pearson would have encountered the college’s all-female students. Dressed in long skirts, wide-brimmed hats and gloves, they ambled the paths during their required “walking periods.”

If these women were still alive, they might not recognize the park. About half the present-day campus covers what used to be considered the park. Some people believe the university will continue nibbling at the land.

Chancellor Patricia Sullivan says she would like to preserve the park for as long as possible, but she and other university officials say the golf course area one day could be home to a dormitory or other building.

“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Sullivan says of the space. “But sometimes, when you’re a land-locked, land-poor campus and you’re growing, you don't always have many choices.”

Robert O’Hara, a visiting professor of biology, says it would be a poor choice to further encroach on the park, which he considers to be both the woods and golf course area.

“It’s like saying, ‘We need more office space. Let’s expand into the Jackson Library.’ Well, you could do that, but I think that’s not the smartest thing to do,” says O’Hara, who regularly leads park tours.

“This is an educational resource, too.”

That’s what the park’s founders intended. College President Charles McIver had long been interested in creating an “educational park” when his friend George Foster Peabody gave the college $10,000. Peabody was a distant cousin of a better-known philanthropist also named George Peabody.

The college used half of the donation to create the park, with trails and cultivated gardens. The park was described in the school’s first yearbook, The Decennial, in 1902:

“One hundred and thirty acres are ours to roam over at will; seventy acres of it in virgin forest...,” wrote Melville V. Fort, then head of the art department, “...we shall find a fitting school room in our Educational Park.”

Even in the early days, the university used the park for practical purposes. Cows that gave milk for the dining hall grazed in the fields. Students, meanwhile, used the park for walking, cooling their feet in the streams, gathering biological specimens and staging plays.

In the 1940s, the university built an amphitheater next to what is now the golf course. The amphitheater was at the edge of a small lake that university workers created by damming two tributaries of North Buffalo Creek. The lake was drained in 1954, and the golf course was built on part of the lake bed. To the south, university buildings continued to rise on park land.

Allen Trelease, a UNCG professor emeritus of history, says faculty and students have tried sporadically over the years to save Peabody Park. Sometimes, there was little interest. Often, the park suffered anonymity. Students and faculty might have known about the woods and fields, but many didn’t know the place had a name; the park has no identifying signs or markers.

Still, some students cherished the park. Kevin Carle, a self-described country boy who came to UNCG to study child development in the early ’70s, says the park was a haven.

“There was a lot of spiritual refreshment in there,” says Carle, now 49 and the director of a preschool in Albermarle.

There was more than refreshment in the park. Carle’s roommate found an unfired .38-caliber Springfield bullet, which would have been standard issue for Union soldiers. Later, Carle read the diary of Union Capt. J. Madison Drake of the New Jersey 9th Infantry. The diary says Drake’s company camped around the Bumpass house on Mendenhall Street.

Carle says the troops would have camped around the closest water, which would have been the creeks in Peabody Park. He believes the university should preserve the park for historical and recreational reasons.

“They have this rare opportunity to have this green space right in the heart of their campus,” he says.

In the last year, a group of students has worked to restore and preserve the park. The Peabody Park Rangers, about 10 students strong, have picked up trash and pulled out invasive English ivy. The group, which gives monthly park tours, also staged a performance by the Spartones, a men’s singing group, in the amphitheater last spring.

This spring, the group hopes to have a larger concert, says Rangers founder Krista Karbowski, a junior. She hopes the group will use the money from the concert to buy markers for the park.

O’Hara, the biology professor, would like to see the park linked, via crosswalks, to Lake Daniel Park across Market Street and to College Park across Aycock Street. O’Hara and chemistry professor Jack Jezorek have written a proposal for the park. They have presented the plan to the faculty senate but not to the administration.

Another plan, by a university-sanctioned committee, will be considered for the school’s master plan, says Fred Patrick, director of facilities design and construction at UNCG.

That proposal calls for the woods and open area to be preserved. It also calls for the creeks in the open area to be protected by a 50-foot buffer on both sides. But Patrick says the fields do not have the same preservation priority as the woods and stream banks. “What we are considering Peabody Park is really the wooded area,” he says.

Still, the open area wouldn’t be developed for at least 10 years, Patrick says.

The definition of the park as the wooded area irks O’Hara, who says the open area has always been part of the park. Indeed, the university’s centennial book, “Changing Assignments” by Trelease, shows pictures of the lake that was created in 1941 and identifies it was being in Peabody Park.

But university archivist Betty Carter says she knows of no official documents showing the size and boundaries of the original park. The 1902 yearbook reference to 130 acres would have included the whole campus, she says. The college had 126 acres of undeveloped land at the time. That area could have been considered the park, she says, but it steadily has been developed over the years.

Karbowski hopes development won’t come to what she knows as Peabody Park. But she recognizes a problem beyond the definition of the park. It’s a long-standing problem.

Last spring, on Earth Day, the Park Rangers set up a table on College Drive to recruit people to work in the park.

“Where’s that?” some students wanted to know. They could have thrown a rock and hit it.

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