October 24, 2016 in Community, and Projects

New sports complex pays homage to the past, celebrates the future

Oxford, Ala. – Hundreds from the Oxford community came out on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, to celebrate the grand opening and ribbon cutting for Choccolocco Park, the City’s new state-of-the-art sports complex. Among those present were more than 50 special guests from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who traveled 700 miles from Oklahoma to commemorate the project located on land once inhabited by their ancestors.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Choccolocco Park
Members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation with city officials and members of the project team at the grand opening ceremony.

During the construction process, the City of Oxford learned the site had been long recognized as a special place of healing by the Muscogee. As a result, city officials asked architects and engineers to go back to the drawing board with the knowledge gained from the archaeology and redesign the complex to reflect the history of the land and the people that once called it home.

“This [park] will become a landmark for our city,” Steven Waits, City Council President and interim mayor, said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. According to Waits, the project has been 12 years in the making and “certainly worth the wait.”

The all-new 370-acre athletic and recreation facility includes one signature and four additional baseball fields, one signature and five additional softball fields, two baseball/softball fields, 16 batting cages, four soccer fields and a full-scale track and field venue.

GMC Project Architect Mike Hamrick with Michele Miller, Ms. Wheelchair Alabama 2012, on the boundless playground.
GMC Project Architect Mike Hamrick with Michele Miller, Ms. Wheelchair Alabama 2012, on the boundless playground.

One of the complex’s two playgrounds, a state-of-the-art, fully-accessible “boundless playground,” is designed especially to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, particularly physical limitations. The idea to incorporate this unique playground was brought to city officials by Michele Miller, Ms. Wheelchair Alabama 2012, who was thrilled to see her vision come to fruition.

Park visitors can learn about the land’s rich history through interpretive signage placed along the three-plus mile walking trail surrounding the 30-acre lake, along with reconstructed elements of the cultural landscape, including the Signal Mountain Stone Mound and Earthen Pyramidal Mound.

In a moving speech, given first in his native language, Speaker Arnold Taylor of the Arbeka Ceremonial Ground commended the work of those involved in developing the Park. “This place is tremendous,” Taylor said. “Oxford, Alabama, you have something to be proud of, and I know you’ll take care of it.”

In addition to providing recreational opportunities for the community, Choccolocco Park will serve the Oxford City School System as the new home of the Yellow Jackets’ baseball, softball and track teams.

At the grand opening, Oxford City Schools Athletic Director Larry Davidson said the park was a “game changer in every regard and a huge step for the Oxford community.”

The park has already been named the 2016 Regional Field of the Year for the Southeast by the National High School Baseball Coaches Association, and is up for the National Field of the Year to be announced in December.

Jacksonville State University’s track team is utilizing Choccolocco Park as their home field. The full-scale track venue includes all interscholastic and collegiate track and field events and was designed to meet both AHSAA and NCAA competition standards. JSU’s baseball team will use the park as its home field in 2017 while their field undergoes renovations.

JSU hosted the 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Softball Tournament at the complex in May, which will return in 2017, and the OVC Baseball Tournament will be held at Choccolocco Park for the next two years, beginning with the 2017 season.

Events and high-profile tournaments like the OVC tournament bring visitors in from across the country and have a tremendous economic impact on the region. According to Waits, the complex is a “huge economic booster” that has already brought in millions of dollars for the city.

The City was awarded hosting rights for the 2017 Dixie Youth World Series, which will bring thousands of people to Choccolocco Park in August for one of the nation’s most competitive little league tournaments.

Plans are also underway to create a canoe/kayak trail along Choccolocco Creek in partnership with the Calhoun Soil and Water Office and Choccolocco Creek Watershed Conservancy, promoting ecotourism and environmental education for the area.

Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood led the project design team and provided landscape architecture, architecture and engineering services. Findley Frazer of Frazer Environmental was the lead environmental engineer, Eugene Turner Construction served as the general contractor and Robert E. Perry & Associates served as the lead cultural resource managers for the project.