In the Port Royal neighborhood of Casablanca, a park has long served as a source of frustration for neighborhood residents and police.
John Parker Park includes colorful playground equipment, a full-length basketball court, horeshoe pits and covered pavilion — a seemingly ideal gathering spot for the area’s families. But, because of its location, the park has drawn crime and mischief.
The park is off Casablanca Circle across Ribaut Road from the Naval Hospital. The wooded area north of the park and continuing across Waddell Road includes paths to Southside Boulevard and two apartment complexes police monitor.
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Some areas of the woods beside the park are overgrown. Liquor bottles, drug paraphernalia and shell casings were found when police walked through this week.
The town wants to cut back some of the underbrush beyond the baseball backstop and create better visibility.
The issue resurfaced after a shooting and attempted robbery in the park at the beginning of the month. Two people police believe are connected to the incident — Dalonte Fripp, 17, and Darielle Harris, 20 — are still at large.
The woods currently offer multiple avenues for those fleeing police to disappear.
“If it was night, I wouldn’t follow them in there,” Port Royal Police Department Maj. Ron Wekenmann said. “In the daytime, I would be hesitant.”
One of the nearby apartment complexes accessible to the park, August on Southside on Southside Boulevard, has been a frequent source of police calls. The complex’s manager said this year steps were being taken to improve security, including repairing fencing, adding new lighting and cameras and requiring criminal background checks of potential residents.
Cleanup on the way
John Parker Park has long been targeted for an overhaul.
The neighborhood’s residents told the town’s park committee they wanted a place for parties and oyster roasts, committee chairwoman Jane Abrams said. Work is expected to begin within a month on a fire pit and fireplace identical to the setup at Live Oak Park beside Port Royal Elementary School.
The project is covered by a $25,000 state grant.
Town manager Van Willis and Mayor Sam Murray walked the park recently and identified areas of concern and where hiding places could be eliminated. Wekenmann said he also spent a couple of hours scouting the park.
Cameras, improved lighting, trimming limbs and bushhogging are all possibilities for making the area safer. Fences could also be built, Willis said.
Some neighborhood residents have offered to help clear some of the brush,
“We want the people of that area to not be afraid to use that park,” Willis said. “Certainly with gunfire in the area and ongoing activity that certainly discourages them from wanting to use it.”
A resident told Town Council recently of “kids” running through the park shooting weapons and urged town action.
“Whatever you can do to secure that park and make it safer,” she said.