Editorial: Ritter Park receives well deserved recognition
Huntington's logical gridwork of broad avenues and orderly intersecting streets can be credited to Boston civil engineer Rufus Cook, whom railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington hired in the 1870s to lay out plans for his new town.
But one thing Cook did not plan for was a park. So, early in Huntington's history residents began looking for land that might be suitable for a recreation area.
In 1908, another Rufus came up with an idea, according to local historian and former Herald-Dispatch editor Jim Casto. This was City Councilman Rufus Switzer, who encouraged his colleagues to purchase 55 acres between Fourpole Creek and 13th Avenue and 8th and 12th streets.
At the time, some citizens opposed the location because they considered it too far "out of town," and it took another decade to find consensus on a plan. But in 1925, work began in earnest on what we know today as Ritter Park, and through the years it has become both a beloved green space and one of the most heavily used parks in the region.
Locals have long known it is a treasure, but it is nice when others see that as well.
Last week, Ritter Park got some of that national attention, when it was highlighted in the American Planning Association's 2012 survey of Great Places in America. Each year, the organization recognizes neighborhoods, streets and public spaces across the country, and Ritter was named as one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in America.
"Ritter Park demonstrates how a public space, through its design and attractions, can serve diverse interests and provide a range of experiences," APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer explained in the announcement. "It also illustrates how a well-planned park can influence and add value to the homes and properties that surround it."
That is certainly true of the 100-acre park, because in addition to the majestic trees and green space, Ritter is buzzing with walking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts and events from festivals to theater to weddings.
Many cities Huntington's size simply do not have that. In fact, most of the public spaces recognized by the APA this year are in much larger communities such as Chicago, Houston, Portland, New Orleans, Denver and Sacramento.
We can all take pride that our community planned well almost a century ago, but the recognition should also be a reminder that we need to show the stewardship to maintain this great public space for generations to come.