Revamped Whitehaven park will be space for health, fun and neighborhood history

Whitehaven residents are gearing up for the grand reopening of David Carnes Park after a $5.4 million renovation courtesy of the BlueCross Healthy Place Program. The program is an initiative of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, which aims to create and improve healthy spaces in communities across the state.

“The level of investment from the foundation, both in terms of their engagement in the creative development of the park as well as the financial aspect, have been amazing," said Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the City of Memphis Division of Parks and Neighborhoods. 

The park was designed with the help of public input, community partners and volunteers. Kevin Woods, Memphis market president of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said Whitehaven residents and surrounding communities were invited to attend the renovation announcement event last spring and provided feedback on elements they wanted to see in the completed park.

“We also conducted a planning event with students at Whitehaven Elementary School," said Woods. "They were allowed to draw their dream park, vote on park elements and see how designs come to life through computer-aided design."

Until recently, David Carnes Park had only picnic tables, a playground and port-a-potties.

Renovations will include a new playground, multi-purpose field, splash pad, fitness pods, pavilion, walking track and more. Residents specifically requested the walking track, fitness area and splash pad.

Rendering of the finished Blue Cross Healthy Place Program scheduled to open in mid-August. (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee)

The park will also be handicap accessible with special features like the RoxAll seesaw. The seesaw has seats with high backs and side rails, allowing users of all abilities to play together. The center saucer also helps with safe transfer to and from mobility devices.

Set to open in mid-August, the park was originally slated to open this month but frequent rains have delayed final construction and finishing touches that require dry conditions. The official ground breaking was held June 2018.

Munoz-Blanco said her department will be responsible for park maintenance and said the partnership between Parks and Neighborhoods and BlueCross Foundation is a “great model” for private and public sector collaboration.

Both the city and foundation had a shared goal to invest in parks as spaces for positive, community-centered activities for people of all ages that contribute to their well-being.

“Whether it is a group of seniors keeping active by walking every morning on the park’s walking trail or a group of young people having fun while climbing and swinging in the playground or a family enjoying an afternoon picnic in the pavilion, all these activities contribute to the physical and emotional well-being of our community,” she said.

New playground equipment includes the RoxAll seesaw, which allows children of different abilities and those who use mobility aids to play together. (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee)

Playground, Splash Pad ... Blacksmith Shop?

The nine-acre park is located near Shelby Drive and Fairfield Road. It's named for David Carnes, an African-American blacksmith and one of the pioneering Black settlers of Whitehaven. 

One of the highlights of the park's redesigned is a historical marker and model blacksmith shop in commemoration of Carnes’ legacy as a teacher, leader and staple of the community. In addition to owning his own blacksmith shop and managing a second, Carnes taught the trade to area high school students.

Dr. Earnestine Jenkins — a historian, University of Memphis professor and Whitehaven resident for 57 years — worked with the Tennessee Historical Commission on the marker that will commemorate Carnes. She said the park’s history is important to her and the community.

"[Whitehaven has] one of the strongest black middle class populations in the city and in the state. We have some of the highest home ownership," said Jenkins. "The black families that [first settled] Whitehaven stayed there, paid for their homes and that’s a benefit for that community."

Jenkins said those families contributed to the long-term stability of the community, and she believes that is one of the factors that attracted BlueCross Blue Shield to the area.

“They could have built this health center park anywhere," she said. "There is something about this community that struck them."

Scott Wilson, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's director of community relations and foundation director, said the organization worked with Mayor Jim Strickland's Office and Parks and Neighborhoods to evaluate seven sites in Memphis. David Carnes Park was selected due to strong and vocal resident support for investment in the park.

Wilson said there are three additional Tennessee BlueCross Healthy Place projects underway in Kingsport, Huntland and Chattanooga.

“We are deeply appreciative of the [BlueCross Foundation’s] generous gift to our city and so excited to be the very first BlueCross Healthy Place Park in the state of Tennessee,” said Munoz-Blanco.

Communities interested in learning more about the BlueCross Healthy Place program can visit bluecrosshealthyplaces.com. Government entities and nonprofits will have the opportunity to submit their project applications for 2020 funding throughout the month of August.
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Read more articles by Erica Horton.

Born and raised in Memphis, Erica Horton is a freelance journalist that loves to learn and write about almost anything. Email her story ideas here