People + Parks: Building Community and Cheer

By Elizabeth McGuire

Some might consider Patterson Park the untamed cousin to nearby, master-planned Mueller Park, but fans of the lush green space off Airport Blvd. wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since 2002, the Friends of Patterson Park organization, currently chaired by Jennifer Potter-Miller, has been working hard to make thoughtful improvements to the park with input from local stakeholders and five surrounding neighborhoods.

The park now features an expansive Great Lawn, nearly two miles of crushed granite trail, a large playground, covered pavilion, skate ramp, partially shaded swimming pool, sand volleyball court, plus basketball and tennis courts. Through surveys and community conversations, the residents are sharing their visions for the park and helping to shape the organization’s priorities.

“It’s an aging park and certainly has needed some TLC over the years,” said Potter-Miller, “but what we are hearing is that people love that Patterson is a little wilder and less manicured. It’s woodsy and has natural space.”

With that in mind, the group has focused on improvements that enhance or activate its features without overwhelming or cluttering the area. The crushed gravel path circling the entire park was built with a $90,000 grant, which was followed by another grant to build a shade covering part of the pool. Since 2012, former FoPP chair Mark Smolen has been spearheading a plan to build a 60-bed community garden, which is currently near completion, and was funded by an APF grant. In 2017, thanks to a grant from Austin Parks Foundation, Patterson will become the permanent home of the Dance of the Cosmos sculpture designed and donated by East Austin artist Jennifer Chenoweth.

Next on the group’s to-do list is a series of maintenance changes to update the 40-year-old infrastructure. “There are many small but necessary improvements—replacing tables and trash cans, adding more benches and seating—that have an impact but don’t take up a ton of space,” said Potter-Miller. “We aren’t interested in filling up space. I think we might be done with projects with a bigger footprint.”

Potter-Miller, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1999 and became involved with the park once she had young kids, says the community love for Patterson is extraordinary.

“I have spent countless hours here—pushing kids on swings, talking with friends,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. The trees are amazing; the light is amazing. It’s magical! When we look back at these periods in our lives, these are the images that are going to come up…spending time outside in this beautiful, tree-covered playground with kids running all around. 

Potter-Miller and other volunteers strive to pass this sense of belonging and stewardship on to the youngest residents as well. This year’s It’s My Park Day at Patterson was designed to welcome volunteers of all ages. “We had adults, teens, toddlers, and even parents carrying babies on their backs while they mulched trees,” she said. “It was incredible—there was so much joy!”

Considering the growing number of enthusiastic supporters, Patterson Park is in capable and loving hands. “I’ve done community organizing all my life,” said Potter-Miller, “but this work—wow—it’s the warmest community building experience I’ve ever had.”

People Plus Parks is a series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.