It’s been sad and frustrating to love Murphey Candler Park these past couple of years. It’s sad because what was most beloved about this park is changing forever and not for the better.

Murphey Candler Park has not only hosted first-rate youth sports leagues for over 60 years, but is also a rare, forested natural haven around a lake inside I-285. The park has been the happy place for families and nature lovers from all over the region since 1954. As children and their families enjoyed the games on the fields, others enjoyed the peace and unstructured nature of the woods and wetlands around the lake. Since the city of Brookhaven took over, the natural features of the park are being destroyed, one project at a time.

The community started to push back on the city last summer. You are seeing more and more yard signs across Brookhaven signaling a growing discontent as the word spreads about two unpopular bond projects on the east side of the park. “Save Big Murph” was to stop the destruction of a huge, healthy 100-year old tree, and a dozen others in a wooded grove; these trees were unceremoniously destroyed to make way for an amphitheater the public does not want. “No Cars in Park” is to oppose opening the loop road to cars and creating a horseshoe parking lot inside the park. The city has been unwilling to share the details of these projects. No longer are the projects small improvements and renovations as shown in the 2018 bond — they are now major installations and completely different project scopes, purposes and costs.

Since August, more than 900 Brookhaven residents have signed petitions opposing these projects, and submitted hundreds of comments.

Why is the city unwilling to address the public complaints?  Because it doesn’t want to change course from the stale plans reviewed by a handful of people in 2015. With $40 million authorized by Brookhaven voters in 2018, the city is determined to spend it all, though not necessarily as laid out in the bond. Brookhaven voters were naive in thinking that they would have any influence on the plans and expenditures once the bond passed. The city claims it is implementing projects approved by the public, but in fact, many of the projects aren’t even close to what was in the original plans. Project costs are so off the rails, that it’s hard to understand how people keep their jobs who manage public funds so loosely.

Unless they hear from you, the city leaders will continue to write endless checks for park projects that barely resemble what was originally proposed.

For more than 60 years, Murphey Candler Park has been loved for exactly what it was — a beautiful, low-key forested oasis near the ball fields and swimming pool. People from all over the region have enjoyed this unusual and special place. Sadly, this park is being substantially transformed from a natural, forested environment to a highly landscaped, un-natural, urban playground. It has been extraordinarily painful to watch unnecessary tree and vegetation removal, the loss of unstructured play areas, gates removed so that cars can drive and park on the old horseshoe footpath, denuding and silting of the wetlands, and general destruction of plant and animal habitat. The natural greenspace inside the park is being converted to habitat for cars, food trucks, carnivals, lights and noise.

What can you do?  Put a sign in your yard, sign the petitions, speak up for the park, call and write the mayor and City Council and ask that the projects be paused for public input. But do it fast — the city is now expediting these projects seemingly in response to the citizen pushback.

Pamela Burnett

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