Driving down Wheeling Avenue towards Tuhey Park for my first day of participant observation, I had no clue what to expect. I arrived around 7:30 in the morning after getting a large, iced coffee from a local Muncie coffee shop, Rosebud Coffee House. I drove in on North Street and parked on the right side of the street parking near the end of the road. No one was in the park besides an older man dressed in a large coat and layers, who I assumed may be homeless. He was sleeping underneath the picnic structure; I did not disturb him.
I walked to the playground with large slides and connecting towers which had a handicapped playground to the side. While I was walking around, I realized the towers were the Tuhey Towers I had already heard of. I started writing down some of my first observations. I noticed the lack of benches because I wanted to sit, yet there were no seats around. I noticed a large open green area which was not being used. I continued to wander throughout the park. I went to the next playground. This one was a bit smaller and a little older than the last. The playground was visibly worn down after years of use by children and weathering. On one side of the playground was a gaga ball pit constructed out of eight pieces of wood, and on the other side was a picnic area with a gazebo, the same area that the presumed homeless man was sleeping. I walked to the front of the park, which consisted of a walking circle surrounding the Bison-Tennial statue, a representation of Indiana’s 200th Anniversary. There were benches and trash cans spaced along the circle, but none had bags inside to collect trash, it was simply just thrown into the bin. Just one visit to the park illustrated to me the need for this parks project. I asked myself a multitude of questions such as; are all Muncie parks like Tuhey, if not how do they compare, and why are Muncie parks this way? I also set out to compare Muncie Parks to other communities’ parks to see if there could be a better way.
Rebecca (Becca) Gutierrez
Over the course of the fall semester, my research group of about six people set out to answer these questions we asked about Tuhey. We spent, as a collective group, close to 40 hours (about 1 and a half days) observing the park, and 11 hours listening to meetings. We also conducted 5 informal conversations, 4 formal interviews and 10 surveys. 302 people were observed throughout the participant observation. Our group noticed patterns in Tuhey’s strengths and weaknesses as a park instantly. We listened to what the community had to say about their beloved park, some of the grievances they had to offer up, as well as suggestions they felt the public should be aware of.
I think that, in our interviews and conversations, it was important to note three recurring themes spread across several different key words and phrases. Themes included: 1) Ball State, 2) recreational and leisure activities, and 3) families. I believe this gives us some insight on how Tuhey Park is actually a central hub for activity in Muncie.
We must take into account that Tuhey Park is the closest public park to Ball State University, which has large amounts of influence over the community. Tuhey is also right across the river from Central High School, of which five of my own thirty-eight participants attended. One group of Central students reported that they liked Tuhey Park because it was close to school and they could walk there on their lunch break. The other group of students lived in the area and were able to ride their bikes to the park to hang out. Unfortunately, no Ball State students were interviewed, as it’s been noted by some locals that BSU students rarely get off of campus; admittedly, I have been a student for five years and even live off campus, yet this semester was my first time I had ever been to Tuhey, despite it being so close. In my personal opinion, I think BSU students simply aren’t very aware of the Muncie public parks, and are more likely to frequent Minnetrista because Ball State informs students about it, as opposed to the public parks. I digress, because the main objective here is to show that Tuhey Park is in the center of Muncie, and its proximity to several major educational institutions is part of what connects it to the greater whole of Muncie. Perhaps, if Ball State students were more informed about the park, like Central students are, the park could serve as a sort of bridge to bring BSU students off campus and into the greater community of Muncie.
The second most commonly occurring theme pertains to recreational and leisure activities. These key words and phrases included items like swimming, trails, and music (to name a few). The most commonly occurring word out of all the interviews was “walk” (9), followed by a three-way tie between, “trails,” “run,” and “bike” (5 each). If these words are occurring often, especially pertaining to Tuhey, it might be safe to assume that these are activities people enjoy or want to experience more of. This means that people need a safe space to perform these activities. Tuhey has a series of walkways throughout it, and a trail across the street on White River Blvd. However, Tuhey is a rather small park, and there might be difficulty found in adding more walkways in a way that makes the park appear cohesive. For this reason, further research would be needed in order to see exactly what people want in terms of trails. For now, however, one could assert that better care of the trails that already exist there must be taken. The trails and walkways that already exist around Tuhey must be well maintained so that people continue to use them in all the ways they most enjoy.
I did, additionally, want to draw attention to an aspect of recreation that might be overlooked by some because it is not based on a word that occurs frequently, like the elements I have analyzed so far. In this case, research is pertaining to one of the existing functions within recreation, which is “suggestions,” or, rather, things people might like to see appear in the parks, specifically at Tuhey. This, however, contained a large amount of suggestions, with almost no one suggestion by one person corresponding with a suggestion made by another. This included things such as baseball, beach volleyball, rinse off areas, music or festivals, and flowers or flower trails. Again, rarely did these overlap across interviews. However, because of the amount of suggestions, it is not that any of these things interviewees brought up must be taken into account, but it is acknowledging that the people of Muncie want something added to Tuhey, whatever that may be.