At its annual awards banquet on Dec. 2, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association announced the signature baseball field at the City of Oxford’s Choccolocco Park as the National High School Field of the Year. “The Big House,” as the baseball facility is called, was named Regional Field of the Year for the Southeast, qualifying it for the national award alongside eight other regional finalists.
A grand opening ceremony for Choccolocco Park was held on Oct. 16, 2016. Hundreds came out to celebrate the occasion, including more than 50 guests of honor from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who traveled 700 miles from Oklahoma to commemorate the project located on land once inhabited by their ancestors.
City officials learned of the site’s historical significance and recognition as a special place of healing by the Muscogee through discoveries made during the construction process. As a result, they asked architects and engineers to return to the drawing board to redesign the complex to reflect the history of the land and the people who once called it home.
To commemorate the land’s rich history and profound spiritual heritage, the City, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and project team collaborated to develop the Choccolocco Park Interpretive Trail. The three-plus mile walking trail winds through what was once the 19th century Muscogee (Creek) Nation town of Choccolocco and surrounds the park’s 30-acre lake. Interpretive signage details the different periods of time in which the Choccolocco Valley was inhabited, and is supplemented by reconstructed elements of the cultural landscape, including the Signal Mountain Stone Mound and Earthen Pyramidal Mound.
At the grand opening, Speaker Arnold Taylor of the Arbeka Ceremonial Ground delivered a powerful message, first in his native language, commending those involved in developing the park and their efforts to protect the sacred ground. “This place is tremendous,” he said. “Oxford, Alabama – you have something to be proud of, and I know you’ll take care of it.”
In addition to the nationally-acclaimed signature baseball field, the brand new 370-acre sports complex includes a signature softball field, four additional baseball fields, five additional softball fields, two baseball/softball fields, 16 batting cages, four soccer fields, a full-scale track and field venue and two playgrounds.
One of the playgrounds is a state-of-the-art “Boundless Playground” and is designed especially to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, particularly physical limitations. The idea to incorporate the all-inclusive playground was pitched to city officials back in 2014 by Michele Miller, the 2012 Ms. Wheelchair Alabama. Two years later, the Oxford native watched her vision come to fruition as children filed in to the playground following the opening celebration. According to Miller, the modified playground equipment allows all individuals to interact without the fear of being left out. “Being able to see children play and knowing that no child will be excluded due to a disability is amazing.”
With all of its ancillary features, Choccolocco Park is able to accommodate the community in numerous capacities. The facility serves as the home field for Oxford City Schools’ baseball, softball and track teams and Jacksonville State University’s track team. It will also be the temporary home for the JSU baseball team while renovations of their home field are underway.
Choccolocco Park is the host site for the Ohio Valley Conference softball tournament in May for the second year in a row, and the OVC baseball tournament for the next two years, beginning this season. The 2017 Dixie Youth World Series, one of the nation’s most competitive little league tournaments, will also be held at the park in August. High-profile events and tournaments such as these attract visitors from across the country and have a tremendous economic impact on the region. According to city officials, the complex has already brought in millions of dollars, with more opportunities already on the horizon.
Plans are also in the works 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.
GMC 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 manager.