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Nimisilla Park: In the Heart of the Heartland

Photo Credit: John Stone

PHOTO: Children play in a leaf pile at Nimisilla Park in Fall 2009.
By Julie Sparks
Released/Published: Dec 25, 2009

Filled with hundreds of stately trees and a history as old as the city itself, Nimisilla Park evokes many warm memories in the minds of Canton residents.  Once home to the Stark County Fairgrounds, the Canton Garden Center, and a fondly remembered zoo, the area now known as Nimisilla Park (located at the corner of 12th Street and Maple Avenue NE) has entertained thousands of families for more than a century on the northeast side of Canton.

But, as children grew up, families moved out, and neighborhoods began to change, the number of events and regular visitors to Nimisilla Park slowly began to decline.  What had once been a center of activity for decades was increasingly at risk of being relegated to the history books – and few seemed interested in preserving the landmark for future generations.  Luckily, a concerned group of neighborhood activists, residents, and elected officials has stepped up to the plate to save one of Canton’s forgotten treasures.

A bold plan
Renewed interest in Nimisilla Park began in 2005 when Ward 2 City Councilman Thomas West announced the Nimisilla and Cook Park Bicentennial Revitalization Project.  The ambitious plan included the construction of an amphitheater, spray park, multi-purpose field, large playground, walking path, and updated facilities for neighborhood residents to enjoy.  Most importantly, it made long-overdue infrastructure improvements to the park that had been ignored for some time.

Unfortunately, revitalization plans quickly unraveled and little was accomplished over the next three years to fulfill the project’s lofty goals.  Nimisilla supporters once again became concerned for the park’s future, and started looking for new ways to increase public interest in the majestic space.

New playground revives efforts
After a period of inactivity, hope for a rejuvenated Nimisilla Park sprang forth in March of last year when it was announced that a new handicap-accessible playground project would be constructed in the city thanks to a grant from the federal government.  Seeing an opportunity to give the park’s revitalization efforts a much-needed shot in the arm, Councilman West successfully lobbied his council colleagues and the Canton Parks Commission to place the new playground at Nimisilla.  Both approved West’s proposal last spring, and playground construction is scheduled to begin early this year.

If all goes according to plan, the aptly-named New Horizons Playground will become the largest play area in the city of Canton.  Climbing walls, slides, swings, and more are included in the current construction plans (see above), all of which will be accessible to children with disabilities. In addition to playground equipment, restroom facilities are also being remodeled to allow access for the disabled and prepare the park for increased use.

Nimisilla backers are hoping the construction of this new playground will rekindle interest in the park as a safe, attractive, and fun destination for families and children of all ages.  If the volunteer effort that has occurred since the playground’s announcement is any indication, their dream will quickly be realized!

Volunteers plant seeds of change
Shortly after Nimisilla Park was awarded the playground construction project, the self-titled Nimisilla and Cook Park Revitalization Committee came together in April to host an all-day event called B-Earth (pronounced “birth”) Day.  The purpose of the event was to generate interest in the project and promote the committee’s future plans for park revitalization.

Litter clean up, general landscaping, and a community picnic gave those who attended a sense of accomplishment and ownership that had not been present at Nimisilla for some time.  This newfound pride could be seen nowhere more clearly than in the garden the volunteers planted inside a non-working fountain located at the center of the park (see photo above).

Modeled after the anatomical structure of a heart, the garden represents the belief among park supporters that Nimisilla Park is both the figurative and geographic “heart” of Canton.  Flowers and greenery were planted in such a way as to create the impression of four “chambers,” each representing one of the four city wards (2, 4, 6, and 9) that intersect at or near Nimisilla.  Activists in the park’s rebirth have even taken to referring to Nimisilla as the “Heart of the Heartland,” citing its geographic location in the city, the city’s location in the state, and the state’s location in the country as symbolic proof of its importance to the success of their overall neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Community interest begins to grow
Following the announcement of the New Horizons Playground and a number of successful volunteer and community events held over the summer, several organizations have already begun scheduling events for 2010 in anticipation of continued revitalization efforts.  These organizations include area neighborhood associations, the O’Jays Festival Committee, and HeArts Coming Together, a local group dedicated to the improvement of Canton through community service and spiritual enlightenment.

Park supporters hope that interest continues to grow long after the playground is completed, and that future projects will spring up around the playground to create a new center of activity for residents from all parts of town.

Though it may have taken more time than was originally anticipated, Councilman West’s vision for Nimisilla Park is slowly but surely coming together thanks to the hard work and dedication of residents, neighborhood groups, and community organizations that have invested themselves in the future of the facility.

Any person interested in donating his or her time or services to this worthwhile effort should contact Mr. West at (330) 489-3223 to volunteer. 

Contact Information: Councilman Thomas West - (330) 489-3223

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