by Daniel Schere

Groups push for improvements at Hanes Park @Daniel_Schere

Hanes Park by day is a bustling city park in Winston-Salem’s West End neighborhood with small children playing on the playground, families picnicking, and groups of people of all ages enjoying a sunny day on the tennis courts.

Hanes Park by night is not a place you want to be. It is dark, isolated and a haven for criminal activity. Vandals have sprayed graffiti around the park, broken into cars to steal valuables, and broken into the Joe White Tennis Center multiple times. On August 4, the “Friends of Hanes Park” Facebook group posted photos of a flower bed that had been destroyed overnight along with a hose that had been cut in half.

Randy Pate, a tennis instructor who also manages the tennis center, said the pro shop has had four break-ins recently.

“The last one somebody tried to break in through the roof and come in through a sun roof but luckily it was barred and they couldn’t get in,” he said. “But of course they left the sunroof open so when it rained it flooded the pro shop.”

Pate said most of the incidents in the park have been petty crime like turning trash cans over, and have not risen to the level of anything that constitutes a felony. He said there was one incident where a guest tennis instructor from Germany was teaching and two trespassers jumped the fence and drew Swastikas on the tennis courts.

He said the car break-ins have been occurring on a weekly basis, mainly due to the poor night lighting.

“Most of the stuff that happens only happens once the light goes out and before we get here in the morning,” he said.

Pate said currently no one would be willing to patrol the park at night unless they were armed. He described the nighttime atmosphere of the park as “a different element,” and said he wants there to be 24-hour lighting as a measure for deterring crime.

“I think it would be less attractive to hang out here after dark if you wanted to do something bad,” he said.

Pate said he feels perfectly safe teaching his courses during the day, and that the parents and children that are always there provide a sense of security. Hanes Park is also bordered by Reynolds High School and Wiley Middle School, but Pate said that can sometimes pose a problem during the school year when truants hang out in the park and do drugs.

At its August 4 meeting, the Winston- Salem City Council approved a bond referendum that includes more than $30 million that would go toward improvements in city parks if voters approve it in November. Of that amount, $1 million would be spend on Hanes Park.

Elizabeth Coyne, a member of the Friends of Hanes Park group, said the group did a pedestrian audit to determine its needs and agrees that sightlines need to be significantly improved.

“We have had such vandalism in the surrounding communities,” she said. “Theft. And it all ends up in the park mostly because you can’t see into the park even during the day because of the amount of brush and limbs.”

Coyne added that runners and tennis players often arrive as early as 4 am and would be well served by additional lighting.

“It’s not efficient, it upsets certain neighbors, but it’s all that’s there to keep the place safe,” she said.

She said that Pate is the only person policing the park at all and that his increased reporting has made the park safer, but she thinks much more can be done.

“We’re liable for something bad to happen one way or the other, because there are just so many dark corners and dark places in an area that’s attracted a lot of people to use it,” she said.

Coyne said she hates to see the decline of the 40-acre park, which she feels is an integral part of the neighborhood.

“This is a great asset to have but it’s really fragile and it needs to be protected,” she said. “One bad thing, everyone could get scared away easily.”

Parks and Recreation director Tim Grant said he thinks vandalism is a problem that is common in public parks around the country and that Winston-Salem is not unique.

“I think every park location in America you experience a certain amount of vandalism,” he said.

Grant said he was not aware of the recent incidents at Hanes Park, but said vandalism occurs on a regular basis around the city. He said it is more common in the spring and summer months, and acknowledged that improvements could be made.

“I think some park locations could use improved lighting,” he said. “I think some park locations could use trees being trimmed back.”

The vandalism trend has also been present in the surrounding West End neighborhood, said Mark Lively who is the president of the West End Homeowners Association. Lively said he had his car tires slashed three weeks ago after returning from a beach vacation. He also said there have been other incidents in the neighborhood that included damage to the gazebo in Grace Court, and several bicycle thefts.

Lively said the neighborhood has a listserv that is used to document crime and report it to the police. He said this has resulted in a few arrests.

“When things happen, someone puts out a notice and it has resulted in people getting caught,” he said.

“Not too long afterwards they were walking down the sidewalk when they found a pair of gloves and a steak knife discarded on the sidewalk. And so we think that probably had something to do with the event. I have some motion sensors on my house lights, so we think they got scared and ran off and dropped their stuff and kept moving.”

Lively said the association has had good communication with councilman Jeff MacIntosh, who has also reported several incidents to the police.

He said the listserv is important for keeping residents connected.

“It makes everyone aware, sort of like a neighborhood watch,” Lively said. “It’s a good thing.” !