Mount Airy, North Carolina, hometown of the 60’s TV icon Andy Griffith, characterizes a simpler time. Its slower pace and neighborly spirit was captured in the fictional town of Mayberry, as depicted in The Andy Griffith Show. Today, Mount Airy is full of culture and a strong sense of community both around the town’s history and the local investments being made to strengthen this small American city for generations to come.
When we headed south to Mount Airy for a recent Park Champion event, we were joined by the new Chairwoman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), for “Hero Day” in the local Riverside Park. Hero Day gave summer camp participants a chance to interact with local police, fire department and recycling department to experience a day in the life of a hero through fun activities.
After observing the Hero Day activities, Chairwoman Foxx helped hand out the free summer lunches available to the children. She remarked on the value of children having access to healthy meals and snacks as well as enrichment activities that get them outside and active over the summer months. The House Education & the Workforce Committee handles the USDA summer meal and snack program in Congress, so it was critical for the Chairwoman to see firsthand how park and recreation agencies like Mount Airy are participating in the program. After all, park and rec agencies are the second largest provider of out-of-school time meals, behind only school districts, in the country.
But this particular Park Champion event was focused on so much more than just the meal being served. It highlighted the town’s beautiful 7-mile Ararat River Greenway, a path for walkers, joggers and cyclists alike that provides access points to the local schools and local businesses. Despite the busy roads and highways that run through the town, the Greenway provides a safe way to get around town.
We were thrilled by the strong sense of community represented by who was in attendance at the event and how familiar everyone was with one another. Constituents were showing up at the park, many of whom had biked or walked there on the Greenway, just to spend a few minutes with the Chairwoman and thank her for representing them in Congress. The Chairwoman herself even shared with us how she and her husband have personally invested in a local park near their home. She expressed how pleased she was to visit Riverside Park again and see all the work that had been done to rejuvenate it over the years.
Mount Airy Parks & Recreation, like much of the town, is striving to be known for more than just Mayberry. After our visit, we can unreservedly say this agency is accomplishing just that. Not only are they providing incredible health and wellness programming for all Mount Airy families — they’re also stepping up as advocates by bringing their members of Congress out to see how federal programs like the USDA’s summer meal program makes a difference for their community .
We’d be remiss if we didn’t thank Mount Airy Parks & Recreation for a true Mayberry experience. After our visit, Director Catrina Alexander and Deputy Director Darren Lewis surprised us with a squad car tour in a 1962 Ford Galaxie, straight out of The Andy Griffith Show. The tour even included a visit to the Mount Airy granite quarry, the largest open-faced granite quarry in the world!
While we can’t all live in Mayberry, there’s something refreshingly simple about getting families active and out to their local parks — and it’s that straightforward message that easily connects with members of Congress like Chairwoman Foxx. We encourage everyone to consider hosting their own Park Champion event to demonstrate to Congress how impactful their dollars can be when a community truly works together. While overlooking the Mount Airy quarry on our squad car tour, we remarked, we’ve got to teach our elected officials that you can’t take parks and recreation for granite!
Editor’s Note: A Park Champion event is any event where you get your members of Congress out to see your parks and programs! Great opportunities include a visit to your summer or afterschool program, park dedication, groundbreaking, and more! It’s easy to plan a Park Champion event using the Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit. For questions or help planning your event, reach out to Jayni Rasmussen, Advocacy and Outreach Manager.