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The History of Parks & Recreation

In the late 1950’s the Parks & Recreation Department was formed to better help the people of Richmond.   The Richmond Parks & Recreation Department was originally a department that was run solely on revenue sharing and fees and charges. After 1981, the transient tax helped fund the department.   It did not become an actual department of the City of Richmond until 1990.

The first Parks Board Chair was Joe Reeves who had an idea- he wanted to keep little boys busy.  This idea helped to develop the Richmond Little League at Irvine McDowell Park. It evolved to developing playgrounds, Pop Warner Football, more children’s leagues, and eventually more parks.

The first designated park for the City of Richmond was Irvine McDowell Park.  Joe Reeves, the first Parks Board Chair, was instrumental in helping to create this park to keep kids busy.  Originally known as the “City Park,” Irvine McDowell park is named for the Irvine Family who donated the park in the 1950’s to the City of Richmond. The Irvinton House used to be the Madison County Library.  It also housed the Parks & Recreation Department in the 1970’s.  In the 1990’s the house became the home for the Richmond Tourism Department. In 1996 it was restored to a historic museum.  In 2001, the museum opened to the public.   In 2016, the Richmond Parks & Recreation Department moved into the addition of the home and is currently used for office spaces. The Irvinton House Museum is open to the public Monday-Friday from 8:00am-4:00pm and through special request.   For more information about the history of the Irvine McDowell Park and the Irvinton House Museum, click here.

Irvine McDowell has undergone several changes over the years.  It was the first park which hosted Little League and Girls Softball.  In the 1990’s the City of Richmond developed what is now the Ann L. Durham Lake Reba Recreational Complex.  Richmond Little League and Girl’s Softball were asked if they wanted new fields in the new facility.  Little League chose to move, while Girls Softball opted to use the existing fields at Irvine McDowell Park.  The Ann L. Durham Lake Reba Recreational Complex is a regional park which includes a 75 acre lake, the 225 acre Gibson Bay Golf Course, Paradise Cove Aquatic Center, Adventure Falls Miniature Golf Course and Batting Cage Complex, Walking Trails, Athletic Facilities, and a Dog Park.

E.C. Million Park is actually one of two Million Parks in the City of Richmond.  In the 1970’s the Million Family designated a portion of their estate to be given to the City of Richmond for a park.  A trust fund was created to fund the remaining portion of their estate and the Million Family created the second Million Park located off of Tates Creek Ave. This park is a passive park which encourages park patrons to enjoy the walking trail, tree identification, and the peacefulness of nature. It is not maintained by the City of Richmond.

According to an August 1, 1933 article printed in the Richmond Register Newspaper, Camp Catalpa Park has been used as City Property since 1933. This makes Camp Catalpa Park the oldest park in the City of Richmond, though not very well known.  The Corps of Engineers hired transients to work at Lake Reba to build a dam.   The men who built it lived on site in the woods of Camp Lake Reba, now known as Camp Catalpa Park.  Camp Catalpa got its name from the many Catalpa trees that are growing in the park.  The city’s only urban forest, Camp Catalpa has 26 acres of rolling hills, trees, and lake front property.  This is the best kept secret in all of Richmond.  In 1978, the federal government awarded the City of Richmond with a Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant to help update the facilities.  A Restroom, parking lot, playground and shelters were installed.  In 2008, the City of Richmond was approached by a company to lease out the land for an RV Park.  This was met with a sense of urgency from community members to “Save Camp Catalpa.”   Through peaceful protests and conversations with the Board of Commissioners, the decision was made to keep the park as a public, natural park.

The City of Richmond’s Parks & Recreation Department conducted a Master Plan in 2014 and made renovating Camp Catalpa Park a priority to be completed by 2017. This park has slowly received a facelift. In 2015, a new large shelter was constructed and replaced an antiquated structure. The smaller shelter had renovations completed, including a new roof, replacing old boards, new electricity, and gutters. The restrooms have also been updated with new fixtures, a new roof, new siding, and updated plumbing. Other improvements include the eradication  of weeds, poison ivy, dead trees, and invasive species.  This process took over 6 months in 2017 to complete and now this park is becoming one of the more popular parks in Richmond.  A new playground, new trails, access to fishing, and an 18 hole disc golf course were installed which now provide multiple attractions for people in Richmond to visit.