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Pride of Scuffletown

For John Patterson, the little-known Fan park is an "oasis of heaven."



"I pick up cigarette butts and trash," Patterson says. He spends a few hours each day tidying up after humans and nature alike — raking, shoveling, you name it. "Pruning is the biggest thing right now," he notes.

The city of Richmond mows the grass and twice a week empties trash bins at the park, but it takes much more to keep Scuffletown "an oasis of heaven" as Patterson and others have come to call the park.

Money is needed. It's why there's an official group called the "friends of Scuffletown Park" organized through the city's Department of Parks and Recreation Foundation. Donations to the fund are tax-deductible. Last year, Patterson hand-wrote 180 letters soliciting contributions. He got $1,400, which went to everything from pooper-scoopers to perennials.

The campaign is on again. Patterson just finished sending out 520 letters to everybody he knows and many he doesn't. Already he's heard back from four or five people, he says, who've each pledged to give $100.

The history of the park is important to the Fan residents who fought to establish it. This year marks a milestone for Scuffletown: It turns 30.

Before it was Scuffletown — a name derived from a scuffle between British troops and an enemy — it was merely a square set off by alleys, peppered with abandoned cars, says Joyce Stargardt. Like Patterson, Stargardt and her husband, Carl, have lived in the Fan for more than three decades.

By 2000, Scuffletown needed a makeover. "It was very outdated," Stargardt recalls. "You know, children don't want to play anymore on concrete playgrounds where they can fall and crack their heads."

Consequently, 30 or so original "friends" of Scuffletown worked for four years to raise $40,000 to renovate it. The park's big new reveal was in 2004.

Today, Scuffletown boasts a community garden at its north end. Depending on the season, it's replete with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers — whatever the public plants and harvests. There are two distinct areas: a grassy, fenced-off section reserved for people and a dirt run for dogs. "Children can roll around in the grass and not worry about dog poop," Stargardt notes.

Patterson says the public space is his personal haven. Scuffletown helped nurse him back to health, in fact. A decade ago Patterson had a stroke that nearly killed him. He was wheelchair bound for a spell. That was when he got Maggie Mae, a rare border terrier who competed in dog shows and also is trained in pet therapy. She's retired now, like Patterson.

Thanks to quadruple bypass surgery Patterson is a new man. He walks with Maggie Mae each day proving it. "You could see me and never know I had a stroke," he says. Scuffletown seems to have played a role. When asked what he likes to do most he answers: "The park pretty much says it all." S

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