Nestled in the heart of Soquel, California, the Anna Jean Cummings Park, affectionately nicknamed the “Blue Ball Park,” is a testament to community spirit, history, and the enduring beauty of nature. This 95-acre expanse, decorated with sky-blue spherical sculptures, offers a unique blend of recreational amenities and natural splendor, making it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
The Story Behind the Name
The park owes its name to Anna Jean Cummings, a visionary and dedicated environmentalist. As the former Executive Director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Cummings was instrumental in the preservation and protection of significant tracts of land in the area. Despite her untimely demise due to cancer, her legacy lives on in the park that now bears her name.
The Park’s Journey: From O’Neill Ranch to a Community Haven
What is now known as the Anna Jean Cummings Park has had a long and storied journey. Originally the O’Neill Ranch, the land was purchased by the County Redevelopment Agency in 1989. Over the course of two decades, the land was transformed into a multi-faceted recreational area, finally opening its doors to the public in the summer of 2001.
A Visual Treat: The Iconic Blue Spheres
One of the park’s most distinctive features is the ‘Skyballs’ art installation, created by artists Steve Gillman and Katherine Keefer. These four sky-blue concrete spheres, each 8-9 feet in diameter, appear to roll down the gently sloping hill, adding a touch of whimsical charm to the park’s landscape.
A Haven for Outdoor Enthusiasts
The park’s layout caters to a wide range of activities. The lower area of the park features a spacious lawn, picnic pavilion, a large playground and restrooms. The upper area offers natural turf baseball/softball diamonds and soccer fields, additional restrooms, and a walking/jogging path that encircles the playfields.
Beyond the manicured lawns and sports fields, the park is home to rare coastal prairie, grassland, and riparian habitats, all interconnected through a network of meandering trails. These trails are a favorite among nature lovers, offering a chance to enjoy leisurely hikes, spot seasonal wildflowers, and observe local wildlife.
A Community Space: Picnic Areas and Athletic Fields
The park has one large picnic pavilion area divided into two sections, Picnic Area A and B. These areas, each equipped with a large barbecue grill, are a popular choice for family gatherings and community events. For sports enthusiasts, the park offers two baseball/softball fields and four soccer fields.
A Commitment to Accessibility
The park’s design also reflects a strong commitment to accessibility. Both the upper and lower areas of the park are equipped with parking lots, and the park’s restrooms, picnic areas, and athletic fields are all designed to be accessible.
The Park’s Wildlife: A Birdwatcher’s Paradise
The park is home to a diverse array of bird species, some of which are rare and endangered. From the Pygmy Nuthatch to various types of owls, over 100 different bird species have been observed in the park, making it a beloved destination for birdwatchers.
The Road to Recovery: A Unique Installation
A unique feature of the park is ‘The Road to Recovery,’ an installation comprising brick-sized plaques nestled along the edge of the grass near the athletic fields. These plaques bear messages of encouragement from young individuals who have overcome addiction, serving as a poignant reminder of the human spirit’s resilience.
A Testament to Community Spirit
The park’s existence is a testament to the power of community spirit and collective effort. From its inception to its ongoing maintenance, the park has benefitted from the contributions of numerous individuals and organizations. Whether it’s the parents who raised funds for ‘The Road to Recovery’ installation or the local birdwatchers who meticulously document the park’s avian inhabitants, the Anna Jean Cummings Park is truly a community endeavor.
The Future of the Park
While the park has come a long way since its inception, the journey is far from over. Plans are underway to develop trail maps for the park, providing visitors with a more enriching experience. The park’s management is also committed to further enhancing the park’s accessibility features, ensuring that it remains a welcoming space for all.
The Anna Jean Cummings Park is more than just a recreational area — it’s a living testament to the power of community, the importance of environmental preservation, and the enduring legacy of Anna Jean Cummings herself. Whether you’re a local resident or a tourist, a nature enthusiast or a sports lover, a visit to this park is sure to leave you with a renewed appreciation for the beauty of nature and the enduring spirit of community.