NEEF and Toyota Mississippi Partner for Park Along the River Improvements
May 20, 2024

For many New Albany residents, it’s hard to imagine the area without the Park Along the River, a mile-long stretch of green space along the Little Tallahatchie River that cuts through the town. But it was only thanks to the vision and dedication of a handful of locals in the early 1990s that the park was even built at all. Now, over three decades later, the area is getting some much-needed revitalization thanks to a new crop of committed citizens.

Park Along The River & Mississippi Statewide Arboretum sign

On Saturday, the New Albany Main Street Association, New Albany Park Commission, Leadership Union County, and Little Tallahatchie Riverway Conservancy welcomed over 500 visitors to the second-annual “Parkapalooza” fundraiser in downtown New Albany.

Attendees had a host of activities to choose from, including live music, food and retail vendors, a kid’s zone with arts and crafts, and raffle drawings for merchandise from local businesses.

people roam around the bouncy houses and play area for kids at the Parkapalooza event

“We’ve just been amazed at the feedback from the community,” said Brittany Clark, Parkapalooza committee member. “We didn’t have a single sponsor from last year that didn’t want to do it again this year. It just shows how important the park is to this community.”

People came from as far away as Jackson for the event, which raised money for improvements to the playground, trails, pavilion, and revitalization of the riverfront and the natural areas along Camp Creek. According to organizers, they managed to raise over $25,000 for the park this year.

“It was great seeing the community come out and enjoy themselves while supporting the revitalization of this wonderful slice of nature,” said Mike Carter, president of the Little Tallahatchie Riverway Conservancy. “We hope this event will be a catalyst for future fundraising and exciting new developments for New Albany.”

a bridge at the park along the river in New Albany, MS

We believe these multi-year projects will have a transformative effect on their local communities, connecting residents to nature and instilling a stewardship ethic to protect not just their local parks, but all public lands.

 Sara Espinoza, President and CEO of NEEF

The celebration was also the perfect backdrop to announce the kickoff of a three-year, $150,000 grant project spearheaded by the Little Tallahatchie Riverway Conservancy. This grant, awarded by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) with support from Toyota Motor North America and their local Toyota Mississippi location, will supplement the $2 million already pledged by the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to implement park improvement projects from the Master Plan, including installation of pollinator gardens, a dog park, and a public amphitheater. The multi-year project will build on these park improvements with the addition of pathways for play, including five nature-themed “play pockets,” as well as funding recreational and educational events and opportunities for youth as requested by the community.

“Toyota has been an excellent partner in our mission to improve outdoor access for all,” said Sara Espinoza, president and CEO of NEEF. “We believe these multi-year projects will have a transformative effect on their local communities, connecting residents to nature and instilling a stewardship ethic to protect not just their local parks, but all public lands.” 

a woman holds up the back of a t-shirt with the Park Along the River revitalization plan

As part of the three-year project, NEEF will work with the Little Tallahatchie Riverway Conservancy and other local stakeholders to design and implement passive and formal education opportunities in the park, such as the Union County Heritage Museum’s new junior naturalists’ program and other youth-oriented public events.

The project in New Albany is the latest in a series of multi-year grants from NEEF and Toyota to improve access to high-quality parks and trails in communities across the country. Projects are underway to restore and expand facilities at Fish Trap Lake Park in West Dallas, Texas, and the Harvest Square Nature Preserve in northern Alabama.

NEEF and Toyota have an extensive history of collaboration dating back to when Toyota first sponsored National Public Lands Day over two decades ago. Since 2021, this partnership has evolved to focus on projects that foster conservation efforts through education and volunteer service in connection with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The park improvements, habitat development, and community engagement opportunities provided by the multi-year grant for Park Along the River showcase NEEF and Toyota's joint commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.