Patricia Clayton arched her back and pumped her legs forward, propelling the swing ever higher toward the canopy of concrete and steel that shuddered and rumbled overhead with the din of Charleston's rush-hour traffic.
The 9-year-old didn't seem to notice the noise, the discarded 40-ounce malt liquor bottles beside the swings or the carpet of broken glass and cigarette butts through which she'd arrived on her scooter. All Patricia cared about was gaining air, soaring higher above the streets.
"This place is fun," she said with a wide smile.
The small playground, named after longtime North Central resident Vivian Anderson Moultrie, is an unlikely addition to the city's portfolio of parks. Surrounded by concrete, stuck in the perpetual shadow of Interstate 26 and just yards from a Mount Pleasant Street gas station, the park seems an odd place for children to frolic.
On this afternoon, young Patricia played alone while her daddy fixed a relative's car nearby. More often, neighbors say, the park sits empty altogether, without a kid in sight.
"The only time I ever see anyone in there is when the city parks people come to clean it up," said Tameka Williams, who works at the neighboring gas station.
The park was created in the early 1970s to mitigate the scar I-26 left behind when it sliced through the neighborhood. Workers installed a sandbox and other playthings below the overpass, and the I-26 Linear Park was born.
Over the years, equipment came and went, but the park saw little use. Maybe it was the ever-present shade, the roar of traffic or the flooding that came whenever the interstate drained after a heavy rain. The park just never caught on.
In 2000, the Rev. Alma Dungee, president of the North Central Neighborhood Association, lobbied the city to make improvements to the park and rename it after Moultrie, a tireless volunteer whose mission was "to make someone happy every day."
With a fairly small budget and some help from AmeriCorps volunteers, the city added swings, a climbing gym and a play school bus. But more elaborate plans to install fencing, landscaping, a hopscotch area and additional equipment stalled for lack of money, Parks Department Deputy Director Matt Compton said.
Compton said he doesn't know how much the little park gets used, but it seems most popular in the summer months, when its shady grounds provide respite from the sun.
Dungee insists the park fills a vital need and, despite what some may think, it is still used by a fair number of children. Her neighbors also harbor a soft spot for the tiny park; they just wish it had more to offer kids.
"The swings and the bus — that just gets old after a while," Stan Scott of Laurel Street said.
The park's namesake, now 91, recalls a time when the neighborhood was little more than a collection of two-room shacks and dirt roads that turned to mud when the rains came. The area where her park now sits was once a city dump. But that doesn't diminish her pride in this scrubby patch of earth.
"I do love everybody," Moultrie said, smiling contentedly. "And I think I was the most humble and grateful person in the whole world to think someone would name a park after me."
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