A park reimagined: New design for Bowman Park
Recently, final design plans were revealed by four University of Georgia students who were tasked to reimagine the Bowman Town Park.
From community input meetings, surveys and other information-gathering sessions, master’s degree candidates Andrew Peterson, Kayla Joiner, Elizabeth Crimmins and Guangzhao (Sophia) Zhang, took what locals asked for and set out to put their landscape-designing knowledge to work for the rural community.
Their final project suggestions for the park include an educational and recreational space that townspeople and citizens could take part in creating through a series of outreach, volunteer involvement activities. The overall park design features improved safety components, play areas separated by age groups, increased opportunities for adults and flexible spaces for community events, including concerts and farmers markets to other social functions and sports. Designed around the theme of farming to represent the area, the park’s focal point of an antique tractor just may be the iconic structure that draws more families to the quaint little town.
After years of seeking ways to bring people back together in a safe, vibrant community park in Bowman, lifelong residents Ike Carter, his wife, Sherry, and their daughter, Lindsay Carter-Tidwell finally found themselves in places where their voices were not only heard and validated but real action steps began to move their dream towards reality.
During the summer of 2021, while working at the University of Georgia, Carter-Tidwell shared her family’s vision with a professor who offered to allow a group of graduate students to reimagine the park and develop a comprehensive design plan as their senior project. Carter-Tidwell said that this hardbound plan is vital to any proposal for grant funding as entities doling out monies for such ventures need to see how their funds will be spent.
In the fall of 2021, this special team of four dedicated designers in pursuit of their master’s degrees in landscape architecture at UGA came together to formulate a plan for the revitalization of the town’s park as a central meeting place of unity, discovery and community. The students began with information-gathering that included surveying local teachers and students, townspeople and concerned citizens to get an idea of what elements people wanted.
Next, they set out with sketch pads and technology devices to map out the existing park, which features some older and some newer playground equipment, a fence in disrepair, a worn-down picnic area, the town’s emergent museum (site of the former town jailhouse), a wooden gazebo, a war memorial and some not-so-stable trees.
According to an email inviting local and state leaders, community members and the media to a Zoom call in December, Carter, a member of the Bowman Town Council, shared information that the Bowman Town Park has a history dating back to the year 1900 and was formally transferred by deed to the town of Bowman in 1927, attesting to over 100 years of existence serving multiple purposes. The land was photographed, sketched and designed by the volunteer students who sought to fulfill the project design goals of creating a safe, functional space that with continued community involvement and appropriate funding could serve the townspeople of Bowman, the citizens of South Carolina and visitors alike as it is located on the frequently traveled Highway 178 between Orangeburg and Charleston.
“Your attendance, input, suggestions, ideas and questions are welcomed as the original purpose of this new reimagined park was to create a unifying, multi-use and diverse center for the community to serve children, adults and families along with supporting small community gatherings,” expressed the town councilman in his written message.
This 60-minute virtual meeting served as the official presentation of the 50-page park design project where graduate students Crimmins, Joiner, Peterson, and Zhang compared the current areas of the park with their reimagined visuals and potential uses explaining their rationale. They also fielded questions and allowed attendees to express their thoughts and concerns.
Joining the students on the call were Katherine Melcher, their UGA Design Studio professor; Cara Specht, representing the S.C. Forestry Commission and the Tree City USA program; Toby Douthat with Sen.. Lindsay Graham’s office and S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of District 66.
“There are some things that we can do with an eye for the future,” said Cobb-Hunter, who expressed her forward-looking imperative that “as much as possible, there should be infrastructure in place that will lead to future development.”
Carter and design student Peterson shared that the proposed park design is just a preliminary solution or projected outcome, and although developed within certain budget restraints, would allow certain design features to be incorporated as they lay the groundwork to accommodate additions of new structures in the future. One such concern was adding metal poles or cementing holes to later erect raised weather covering or shading over different areas of the park if trees or existing elements were not sufficient in different seasons of the year.
“We have discussed with Cara Spect about Bowman becoming a Tree City USA (town), where we would work with them as much as possible to decide what trees to include and what grasses to use,” said Carter, showing appreciation to and a desire for continued support from the S.C. Forestry Commission as a valuable resource for appropriate and sustainable vegetation for the park.
In the project-design description, the team says that they worked to weave all program elements desired by the community with specific themes. There would be an updated arched entrance, a lawn and stage area, a museum plaza space, an adult game area, a 2-5 play area, a 6-12 play area, a multisport court and some streetscape improvements.
“A theme that you are going to see throughout a lot of theses spaces is flexibility,” Joiner said. “We really wanted to maximize the ability for Bowman to take this park and use it however they need.”
“The adult game area has movable furniture on the lawn. You can clear this lawn space out and set up tents and tables for a farmers market or larger gathering event,” said Joiner, who explained that there could also be a concrete ping pong table there which was an element that several community members mentioned in brainstorming meetings.
The final park design project includes a centerpiece tractor, which was suggested as a place for taking photos and cultivating conversations about farming with children.
“This idea came up in one of our community feedback meetings; the idea of taking an antique tractor and have it painted as a public art installation,” she said.
“We love this as a way to represent the agricultural history of Bowman and it’s a low-cost way to have an interesting focal point. It could become a local landmark that people would look forward to seeing,” she said.
“Another thing we heard frequently at community feedback meetings was the desire to have play areas that were specialized by age. With it being a really, family-focused community, having a play space that is targeted toward the younger children that has some low fencing and equipment that is age-appropriate for them is something that a lot of families wanted to see so they could feel safe going to the park and taking those younger children along,” Joiner said.
This area is positioned across from the lawn to promote ease of supervision. She suggested that families can go sit on the lawn to enjoy a performance while having their kids playing safely right near them.
A lot of the park is designed around the farm theme, including the 2-5 play area that features animal tracks imprinted into the rubber matting and play equipment that mimics animal-like movements.
The 6-12 play area would keep the existing 4-seat swing set and include a few additions.
“One of the pieces of feedback from the kids was a zipline in the park. So, after doing some research, we found this 18-foot-long zip track where you would hold on to a handle and slide along a track. While it’s not as big as a normal zipline, it could meet that desire of what they were looking for,” Crimmins said.
“The point of this space is to remain open and flexible while also offering some seating. There are some custom planter seat walls that will face into the play area or into the basketball court. This offers unique seating and an opportunity to include more plants,” Crimmins said.
Zhang offered her layout of the multisport court.
“We will utilize the current basketball court and resurface and repaint it into multisport areas. You can do shuffleboard or pickleball and there are colorful squares for you to play other games,” said Zhang, who added that there would also be some bench seating in this area.
In addition to the actual park itself, the design team offered some suggestions for the streets surrounding it. Considering the throughways beside the park on the north and south sides, they proposed turning those into one-way streets and adding parallel parking spaces.
“This would create more parking and add another buffer for safety having that parallel parking which kind of slows down traffic,” Joiner said.
“There is an opportunity to integrate some creative crosswalks. This could be a community-led project that could reflect the community identity along Charleston Highway or on some of the more internal streets,” she said.
“With the parallel parking, we wanted to create opportunities for food trucks along the street,” Joiner said.
After sharing the overall park design, the project cost estimate was revealed as totaling around a half million dollars. The students included a four-phase breakdown of the cost estimates from removing the existing trees and demolishing certain structures to purchasing and installing new equipment, lighting and seating, and from building a stage and new restroom facilities to improving the streetscape and designing an arched entry sign.
The group of four designers shared that community projects and local volunteers could help defray much of the costs if there were a collective community buy-in to the whole park idea. They expressed that not only would community projects help to lower the costs or the redesign, they should increase social connectivity, build connections, and foster community pride as people stay engaged with the projects in meaningful, hands-on ways.
Some optional community activities and events were suggested such as planting days, designing and painting a colorful mural to reflect the community, stenciling and painting the antique tractor focal piece and painting the multi-sport court. For each of these ideas, the park design book gave rationale for the project and offered a list of needed materials as well as other helpful hints for resources and community outreach or volunteerism.
The final page of the park design proposal book expressed the students' pleasure and appreciation to the community of Bowman for giving them this incredible opportunity. They thanked the Carters, Mayor Patsy Rhett, Bowman Town Council members and local citizens as well as the students and teachers at Bethune-Bowman Middle-High School for helping them to complete this project.
At the virtual meeting wrap-up, Joiner said, “We think back on this semester and the experience that we were able to gain as students. Being able to work on a real-time project with people who cared so deeply, we really did feel like we were a part of the Bowman community through all of this so we are thrilled for the day that this gets built and we can come back and visit to see what we were all able to create together.”
In response, Carter-Tidwell answered, “You all have been such a blessing; you really are a part of the Bowman community.”
“From the very beginning one of the biggest challenges for us has been lack of resources to get this project moving,” she said.
“When we started pursuing this renovation project, we kept hitting roadblocks like the cost to retain a designer ... and when I approached Landscape and Design at UGA and they offered you all as an option, we were thrilled,” she said applauding the students for “bringing such professionalism, talent, creativity, energy and enthusiasm” to this project.
“I am from Bowman. Ike is my dad. Growing up in a town that is so important to me, I want to see this park available and accessible and safe so that children in our community have a place to congregate. They can grow up experiencing some of the same things I did as child,” said Carter-Tidwell, hopeful that the same interest and investment that people showed at town meetings for this design phase of the park will continue into the actual coming to fruition of the multi-use, functional space that will benefit generations to come.
“I love my town,” said a choked-up Ike Carter. “We need to do our best to become unified and to take this project forward. My dream is to see a unified community that has safe environments. This gives us a benchmark. I would hope that maybe Bowman will be the example that Orangeburg’s towns and municipalities can use to make us a safer county.”
“I’m on board. I’m excited,” said Rep. Cobb-Hunter vowing her continued support.
Reminding everyone that even though this was a graduate project and that “these students would be graduating and moving on to fabulous careers,” Professor Melcher expressed to those on the call, “You have an ally here (at UGA). This is just the beginning. Feel free to reach out to me.”
Spect, who is new to the S.C. Forestry Commission and a representative of Tree City USA, offered her optimism for researching plants and trees that would be appropriate to the park and for finding monetary sources.
“This is a great opportunity for me to start out, to get a sense of the town. I think within the next year, we can move things forward and hopefully find some funds and form some other partnerships with Palmetto Pride and other non-profits that could help out,” she said.
“These students came with some wonderful ideas. We are trying to make the park more accessible to our older adults as well as to our younger children. What we are working on at this time is funding,” said Bowman Mayor Patsy Rhett, who reflected upon the times she played in the park as a child and took her own children to play at the park.
“Having a park like this will be uplifting to the spirits of the people of Bowman,” she said.