Miller Park is a Lynchburg staple.
For decades, children across the city have eagerly awaited Memorial Day and the opening of the park’s pool. The unofficial start of summer often draws hundreds to the city’s first and oldest park.
And for good reason. Miller Park is home to the city’s only public pool, making it one of the most popular spots for those desperate to beat the heat.
On a recent sweltering afternoon, dozens took advantage of the cool waters. Some threw themselves off the high-dive while others exercised by swimming laps.
Nine-year-old Eli Moore splashed through Miller Park pool with some newly made friends.
His grandmother, Dee Green of Nelson County, said Eli was visiting from North Carolina. Green used to bring her own children to a now-shuttered public pool in Charlottesville and last week went searching for a new one.
“I've got grandchildren so the tradition is starting again,” she said. “But where do I take them? So I said, ‘Let's try Lynchburg.’”
Green, who said she rarely visits Lynchburg, had a vague memory of a public pool in the Hill City. Miraculously, she found it with ease. The bright blue water visible from Park Avenue led the way.
Green said she was impressed with the pool’s cleanliness, the large staff of eight lifeguards on duty and the spacious 37-acre park that surrounds the pool. Though the drive took around 45 minutes, it was well worth the trip, she said.
“[Eli has] found a place where I can bring him now,” she said. “I don’t have any excuses not to.”
Miller Park, originally known simply as “City Park,” was created in 1862 after Samuel Miller donated 18 acres to the city. The park was largely built amid the nationwide “City Beautiful movement,” which saw the construction of some of the country’s most iconic urban parks, according to Andrew Reeder, Lynchburg Parks & Recreation’s parks services manager.
“This was our central park,” Reeder said.
Reeder said the park has long been a hub for activity, a tradition that continues today. Photos from a 1902 marbles championship held at the park show virtually the whole city gathered at the same spot, according to Reeder.
Though the pool may be the park’s main attraction, it is far from the only amenity, Reeder said.
Nearby, a playground is available for young children. Grills and a pair of wooden pavilions offer places to make and enjoy lunch. And throughout the park, plaques and monuments describe its history.
The park’s eastern half is largely dominated by baseball fields and basketball courts and on the western side a tree grove offers shade to the park’s guests.
It was under the shade where Kandi Parks and a friend decided to stretch out on a picnic blanket. Parks, a lifelong Lynchburg resident who lives a few miles from Miller Park, said she’s visited the park ever since she was young. The long walk to the park is good exercise and the well-manicured grounds are the perfect place to relax and cool down, she said.
The early afternoon is a popular time to find people relaxing with a meal.
Once a month, Parks & Rec invites local food truck vendors to the Grove Street side of the park. Jonathan Silva, a pilot based in Charlotte, lived in Lynchburg as a college student and has fond memories of “Food Truck Thursdays.” Last week he visited the city to reconnect with old friends and found himself drawn back to Miller Park.
“It's great that it's still going,” he said of the food trucks, as he enjoyed a taquito from Tali’s Grill.
Though Miller Park is largely defined by its historic nature, it is ever in flux. Last year the city renovated the historic Aviary, which once housed exotic birds and is now used as a public meeting place and wedding venue.
Reeder said Parks & Rec has spent more than $1 million over the last decade upgrading and repairing park facilities. In the spring, work was done to rebuild and beautify a retaining wall that runs along Park Avenue. The work has helped give new life to older areas of the park, he said.
“The city has worked very hard with the citizens to improve things,” he said.