Today is the first official day of summer, making the completion of one of Maryville-Alcoa Civitan Club's major projects all the sweeter.

The club of 21 members has completed renovation and repair work on the Special People's Park, just off East Lamar Alexander Parkway in Townsend. It was cordoned off months ago due to safety concerns.

Work got underway in late 2018 to provide new decking, stabilization of the eroding bank, installation of ADA-certified grills and handicap-accessible tables, painting and refurbishing of the wheelchair ramp. The fence also has been repaired, club President Robert Ullom said. New safety bumpers are in place, and most everything has a fresh coat of paint.

"If you count construction costs and the material plus labor, we have almost $18,000 in the rebuild," Ullom reported. He said the club eventually will add up all of the volunteer hours that were put toward the project.

The initial fundraising goal was $10,000. With the community's help, the club soon reached $12,000. In January, the amount raised was at $15,000. Large donations came in from area businesses but also sums of $25 from individuals, Ullom said.

It will be necessary to continue maintenance on a regular schedule, the club president said. The club is seeking groups or individuals who might want to join in.

All come together

"We always have problems keeping the ramp and river pad clean because of flooding," Ullom said. "The club has decided to do a quarterly cleanup, and we are trying to get other groups looking for service hours to help us."

The park, which was built in 1988 by members of Maryville-Alcoa Civitan Club, is specifically for those with physical and/or developmental disabilities and their immediate family members. Signs at the park are posted. But, Ullom said others take advantage of the park's convenient access to Little River.

The timeline had the club finishing the work a few months ago, but weather delays earlier this year were a problem. "It was hard for our contractor to find days together to get things finished, but finish he did," Ullom said.

One family which has enjoyed the park over the years is Frank and Shirley Hogsed and their son, Russell, who is disabled. Frank Hogsed said he has seen photographs of the new and improved park and can't wait to take Russell fishing.

"Fishing is fun," Frank Hogsed said. "And Russell has been known to stretch the truth when describing the size of his catch. Once when his friend, Steve Blair, asked what size fish he caught, Russell raised his hands in front of his chest and with what we call his crowing sound, he managed to widen his hands out to a distance that far exceeded the little brim he had hooked."

Russell loves to be outside, Frank Hogsed said. He likes to ride the waves at Myrtle Beach in his homemade beach wheelchair. Its tires are made from balloons.

"With me holding onto one side and his friend, Roy Burnett, who helped craft the wave rider on the other side, Russell wants to stay in the surf long after we've tired out. Besides fishing, he also enjoys boat rides," Frank Hogsed said.

Then there's riding horse trails, Frank Hogsed said. Russell rides with his cousin, John Willocks, on the 125-acre family farm in South Carolina.

"But I think more than anything, Russell loves to watch children play," Frank Hogsed said. "Whether it's at the playground at Foothills Mall or the play area at Sandy Springs Park, he just seems to get lost in the world of watching children."

When Russell isn't outdoors, he spends his days at The Gate, where many of his former schoolmates attend. The Gate is a day program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and is in Maryville. The Hogseds are founders.

In 2014, the Special People’s Park was featured on the front cover of Civitan Magazine, the official publication of Civitan International. The park had celebrated its 25th anniversary. Nearly a dozen members of the Maryville-Alcoa Civitan Club came together in the summer the same year to clean and refurbish the park. They cleaned, painted and pruned. In addition, boards were replaced on the ramp and fence.

The partnership is continuing in 2019.

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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