We Charlotteans are lucky. Charlotte has settled into its status as a big city with plenty of food and entertainment options to keep your social calendar full all 52 weekends. We’re within driving distance from some of the best beaches on the East Coast and most sought-after views and attractions in the North Carolina mountains.
But you don’t have to pack your bags to enjoy the great outdoors. Within Mecklenburg County, there are 210 parks providing over 21,o00 acres for play, relaxation, and taking in beautiful scenery. Even with all of these options, people have strong allegiances toward their park of choice and often don’t vary their visits. With such variety at our fingertips, how can you choose just one?
Scoop took to the streets to find out which local parks reign supreme for a Charlotte Park Smackdown. Regardless of where your normal Saturday afternoons are spent, we challenge you to sample the local flavor in our park system or branch out from your go-to park. There’s no better place to enjoy time with friends and family than under a perfect Carolina blue sky.
Editors Note: We had local writers Amy Trainum and Nicole Brantley weigh in on our smackdown. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts!
Romare Bearden Park vs. First Ward Park
Both located in Uptown and fairly new additions to Charlotte, these urban oases are the answer for solace during your lunch break and beyond.
Romare Bearden Park– 300 S. Church Street. Opened in 2013 and named for Charlotte-born, internationally-lauded artist Romare Bearden, this park offers 5.4 acres of diverse gardens, greens, and walking paths to explore in the heart of Uptown. Its neighbor, BB&T Ballpark, is also a major Uptown attraction. With warmer weather on the horizon, the park will host various fitness, music, art, and children’s events through the summer. From now through August 31 you can take your lunch at the park and be serenaded for the Music Box Lunch, Tuesdays and Fridays from noon to 1:30pm. Party in the Park runs from now through September 22 and features live music in a wide variety of genres from 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday evenings in addition to a monthly music series on select weekends. The Childhood Muse Plaza and waterfall feature are permanent park fixtures that kids go ga-ga over so be sure to treat the little ones to a trip to Romare Bearden Park for an interactive experience that will tucker them out and guarantee an on-time bedtime.
First Ward Park– 301 E. 7th Street. Years of planning, a solid year of construction, and a commitment to strategic investment in public land and spaces by UNC Charlotte, Levine Properties, and local government has paid off in a big way with the new kid on the block: First Ward Park. At 4.5 acres, this space has similar offerings to its Uptown neighbor, Romare, with an interactive fountain, beautifully cultivated gardens, tree groves, and more.
Nikki’s Vote: Having had more time to grow as a beacon of community and pride in our city, with almost too many events for one person to attend, I have to name Romare Bearden Park as the winner in this match-up.
Amy’s Vote: I’ve got to agree with Nikki on this one. I’m always amazed by the beauty of Romare Bearden Park — especially during football season when the park’s water fountains are lit up bright blue in honor of the Panthers — and impressed with how many well-planned events take place there. Plus, it’s the perfect place to spend a nice warm day outside picnicking.
Freedom Park vs. Latta Park
The historic Dilworth Neighborhood is only made more beautiful and charming with its most popular parks, Freedom Park and Latta Park. Both are unique in what they offer, so although we must name a winner, they’re both at the top of our list of favorite places in town.
Freedom Park– 1900 East Boulevard. Although the park’s shelters and other facilities are in the midst of a massive renovation project, there is still plenty of space to soak up some vitamin D on a nice Carolina afternoon. Coming in at a whopping 98 acres, Freedom Park has long been the go-to park for a Charlotteans from all walks of life — with baseball fields, tennis courts, soccer fields, a basketball court, sand volleyball, a 7-acre lake, a music pavilion, playgrounds, NFL Play60 KidZone, walking trails, and gardens. Freedom Park is also connected to the Little Sugarcreek Greenway, making it accessible by foot from Uptown and the Park Road area. WHEW! With all Freedom Park has to offer it’s no surprise that it’s one of Charlotte’s busiest parks. If you’re looking for a place to relax, you’ll have to make your way passed the fields full of kids playing soccer before you’ll reach a secluded place to unwind, but they do exist. Don’t miss Festival in the Park here in the fall when artists line the walking trails around the lake and the smell of kettle corn popping in a copper cauldron fills the air.
Latta Park– 601 East Park Avenue. Although noticeably smaller than Freedom at 32 arces, Latta Park packs a big punch in terms of amenities. Here you’ll find a “Sprayground;” something for every sports lover from basketball to tennis and volleyball to soccer; playground; walking/fitness trails; and a large picnic shelter with restrooms, electricity, and a grill in addition to the grill sites throughout the park. The Tom Skyes Recreation Center is also a part of this park with a gym and variety of programs and activities seasonally.
Nikki’s Vote: Although the peace and serenity of Latta Park pulls at my heartstrings and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, Freedom Park is a tough contender in the Charlotte Park Smackdown arena. For sheer volume of options for how to maximize your weekends, Freedom Park takes the prize in this match.
Amy’s Vote: Freedom Park is the clear winner here — mainly for its access to the picturesque greenway that leads all the way to Uptown and the annual festivals that are always a huge it. Oh, and the fact that the park also has a ton of parking makes it an easy decision for me between these two parks.
McAlpine Park vs. Park Road Park
Further outside of the Uptown/Dilworth area, you’ll find more beautifully maintained and exciting park offerings. Two of these are McAlpine Park near Matthews and Park Road Park on — you guessed it — Park Road near South Park.
McAlpine Park– 8711 Monroe Road. The natural areas of this park are the majority contributor to its 114 acres and local cross country meets are often held on the 5k course here. You’ll also find an outdoor fitness area, biking trail, soccer fields, and 3-acre lake with a fishing pier at McAlpine.
Park Road Park– 6220 Park Road. Not just fun to say, Park Road Park is flush with activities. Situated on 72 acres in South Charlotte, park-goers can take their pick from tennis, basketball, horseshoes, baseball, volleyball, walking trails, rental shelters, fishing off of the pier on the massive 11-acre lake, or dangling from the monkey bars at the Newtown Memorial Playground, dedicated to the memory of victims of the Sandy Hook shootings.
Nikki’s Vote: I, admittedly, might be biased here, but McAlpine Park is the clear winner in this sentimental runner’s eyes due to its unique 5k cross country course and plentiful tree-cover.
Amy’s Vote: I’m a fan of all the options that Park Road Park offers visitors and the fact that it has such a large lake for fishing.
Parks are not just spaces for recreation, they bring neighbors, visitors and communities together and offer fitness and wellness for free. Honestly, it pains us to name a winner and loser in these match-ups in the Charlotte Park Smackdown, and really, there are no losers. Each space is important to the greater ecosystem of outdoor spaces in our city, and we wouldn’t quite be whole without them. As we continue to grow and expand, it’s important to also keep sight of the vital contribution parks and other public outdoor spaces play in our lives as urbanites. We’re proud of our parks, and that we as a city recognize their role in keeping Charlotte beautiful and its citizens healthy.
(This article was originally written by Nikki Brantley and updated by Amy Trainum).