Park offers wide range of activities, including hula hoop jams
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 10:20 a.m.
Some come for fitness. Some come for fun. These days, Albert “Ray” Massey Westside Park has plenty of both, thanks to everything from a skate park, exercise trail, playgrounds and pool plus wide-open but shady spaces that draw a myriad of groups offering such activities as a monthly “hoop jam,” as in hula hoops.
Albert ‘Ray’ Massey Westside Park
What: Gainesville city park with 27 acres of facilities including a skate park, exercise trail, ball fields, playground and more.
Where: 1001 NW 34th St.
Cost: Free admission, multi-purpose rooms can be reserved for about $40 an hour.
Gainesville hula-hoop jam: 2-4 p.m. Sunday; held every second Sunday of the month, Gainesville hula-hoop jams (www.spellbounddancearts.com)
EHS STAR Walk: March 3
Health Admin. Student Walk: March 31
Hemophilia Foundation Walk: April 14
MS Walk: April 21
Just one of the many happenings bustling inside the park at 1001 NW 34th St., the next “hoop jam,” as these free get-togethers are called by those who regularly head to Westside Park for them, is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. (Jams are held on the second Sunday of the month this year.)
The jams aren’t exactly classes, says Michala Jones, a University of Florida graduate student who organizes the events, although participants can expect to pick up some moves and tricks along the way. “Hoopers” of all ages and skill-levels can expect an open-format opportunity to “do whatever they feel like doing,” she says.
“It can really do a lot to lift your spirits,” Jones says. “And then you get in shape at the same time.”
The events also are “a great medium for self-expression,” says Jones, and they bring additional camaraderie to the park: Some of the people who show up are seasoned pros. But some are new to the hula hoop. (Some hoops are provided, but most people bring their own.
There’s a perk to the park locale too: the curious passersby.
“We get a bunch of tennis players who walk up and say, ‘What are you guys doing?’” she says. “[Westside Park] is just a great place.”
The ‘people’s park’
Locals like Jones make Westside the most used park in the Gainesville community out of the 92 spread throughout the city, according to Michelle Park, assistant director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. (Specific data about the amount of visitors is not collected.)
“I call it the people’s park,” she says of Westside Park, which was renamed in 2009 to honor the department’s first director, Albert “Ray” Massey.
In addition to the playground, the 27-acre park features three ball fields, an exercise trail that loops around the land, four lit basketball courts, multiple picnic pavilions, four racquetball courts, eight lit tennis courts, a skate park, a swimming pool and a recreation center equipped with multi-purpose rooms (the rooms are open to the public but can be reserved on a regular basis for a fee of about $40 an hour).
“Parks build community,” she said. “They provide a place for all of our citizens to come together — all ages, all sizes, all races — and play together, whether it be an organized game or a drop-in at the playground.”
The park appeals to everyone from college students to soccer players to people who want to take their dogs on scenic runs. Lots of families use the park, she adds, and it’s a popular spot for charity walks and clubs that teach an array of dance styles, like square dancing.
Last Saturday afternoon, for example, the park was filled with dozens of people — from those on bikes careening into the air at the skate park to families with children trying out such new Christmas gifts as scooters and bikes.
“It’s a fantastic place with all of the facilities, the skateboard park, the kids’ playground, all the sports going on; it’s a fabulous space,” said Marc Minno, a grandfather who was visiting the park Saturday with his two grandchildren, Rose Forbes, 4, and Mirin Minno, 7.
“They just got new bikes, so they’re trying out their bikes,” Marc Minno said, as Rose and Mirin sat on their gleaming new modes of transportation.
And then there’s Jones and the park-goers who show up to her hula-hoop jams.
“It’s such a great kind of bonding experience,” Jones says. She starts to say solo hula-hooping is boring, but she corrects herself.
“Not boring,” she says. “But it’s natural to want to get together.”
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