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In 2020, the priority of newly elected Mayor Dan Gibson and newly elected Alderwoman Valencia Hall was to build a recreational complex for the City of Natchez, Mississippi. Their priorities quickly shifted to restoring the city’s six parks due to the poor conditions of the playground equipment. The city secured an almost $3 million recreation bond to restore not only its six parks, but also build additional tennis courts at Duncan Park, along with pickleball courts, and renovate three baseball fields. The recreational bond money also was secured to restore the youth center at North Natchez Park and the golf clubhouse at Duncan Park.
Our vision was to have ADA-compliant and certified recreational equipment in our parks with interactive components for all children and adults to enjoy. This included ADA-compliant and certified swings and accessible pathways. Programming, especially accessible programming, also was an important component of Natchez Parks and Recreation.
Parks and Recreation Revitalized
The City of Natchez had not had a full-time parks and recreation director since the sudden passing of Ralph Tedder, an outstanding community youth advocate and director, in 2008. In 2021, the mayor and Natchez Board of Aldermen hired Sanora Cole to carry out their vision. Cole, under the guidance and support of Alderwoman Hall, chair of the city’s Recreation Committee, and Richard Burke, executive assistant, oversaw the installation of the new playground equipment and the beginning of the rebuilding of three ballfields, with one ballfield becoming a multisport field. Cole also implemented multiple programs for the community’s children, youth and families during her time as director of parks and recreation.
The city recently broke ground on two additional tennis courts at Duncan Park, had the ribbon cutting for the newly restored youth center and will soon begin construction on the new golf clubhouse. Mayor Gibson and Alderwoman Hall initiated the application process for both the youth center and the golf clubhouse to be considered for Mississippi Landmark designation due to their historical nature. This designation has been granted by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, thanks to the efforts of the Historic Natchez Foundation.
Historic Duncan Park also has an 18-basket disc golf course, thanks to Burke’s vision and the joint efforts of city leadership, civic organizations and private donors. The course is host to the annual Bluff City Open tournament and was selected to host the fourth annual Mississippi Disc Golf Hall of Fame Championship in 2025.
Moreover, the Natchez Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors have been working together to maintain the city pool and soccer fields, with the current director of parks and recreation, Ryan Porter, serving as a liaison between the two. He is determined to have a formidable parks and recreation department for all of Natchez to be proud of. With a strong sense of unity and collaboration, the City of Natchez can continue to create viable green spaces for its youth, seniors and families, which will, in turn, improve the overall health of the community.
Ryan Porter is Director of Natchez (Mississippi) Parks and Recreation. Sanora Cole is Former Director of Natchez Parks and Recreation.