What does it mean to say a park is "closed"? Well, the land could be sold and built, there could be a fence to keep people out, or as in the case of Forest Lake Park, it could just have been abandoned by its owners, whoever they were.
Forest Lake Shopping Center is on the corner of Trenholm Road and Forest Drive, directly across Forest from Threnholm Plaza and has had its ups and downs. Originally, the center was anchored by Campbell's Drug Store which was directly on the corner. Down from Campbell's on the storefronts facing Forest were my longtime barbershop, a hardware store and a lot of shops I've completely forgotten. The hardware closed fairly early on (probably by 1970) and at some point a 7-11 moved into that row.
I don't remember much about the storefronts facing away from Forest except that there was a cloth shop at one time, and later some sort of clothing store where I was fitted for a suit once. Across the parking lot from Campbell's, was a small branch bank, denomination forgotten, where my mother often used the drive-through. Behind the bank was a creek, with a footbridge over it leading off into the adjoining neighboorhood.
The Campbell's block of stores was separated from another block by an access cut-through, and this other block was generally more important to us, as the main part of it (now Coplons) was a Colonial grocery store, my mother's favored place to buy groceries. I don't know exactly why this was, as even then, Columbia didn't lack for grocery stores, and there was an A&P right across the road in Trenholm Plaza. The thing I remember is that she was convinced that "Farm Charm" medium-sharp chedder was the only cheese worth buying (she convinced me as well) and "Farm Charm" was available only at Colonial or Big Star groceries. (There was a Big Star abuting the K-Mart on Fort Jackson Blvd). The block of stores with Colonial also held Forest Lake TV, where we had our sets repaired several times, and Sakura Japanese restaurant, which is still there, and must be the oldest Japanese restaurant in Columbia.
Colonial folded (I think) in the late 60s (leaving us to go over to Big Star for cheese..). I don't recall how long it was before Coplon's moved in, but I'm pretty sure it was there before they knocked down the whole Campbell's side of the shopping center (dispossessing my barbers) and put in the new First Citizens and Talbots there. The branch bank had closed by then, and its space is now taken over by a gallery/frame-shop with the outbuildings being sucessfully run by an enterprising garden store.
What does this have to do with the park? Well, my impression always was that the park was run by Colonial as a place for kids to go play while their mothers' shopped. (Yes, in those days, as long as it wasn't across a major road, you could send the kids out of sight to play!). When Colonial went under, the park stopped being maintained. Every now and then, there might be a minor repair, which I imagine the (mostly hard-luck by now) shops being dunned for, but in general there was nothing. The last major thing to happen was the carting off of the swingset, which had been swing-less for years.
Today, there are 3 fixtures. Here are two, the bench and the monkey bars:
Here's a closer look at the monkey bars:
I have a particularly vivid memory of these. Once, when my mother was shopping at Colonial, and my sister & I were playing in the park, I had one of those ideas that seems good at the time and decided that I could probably hang by my knees off of the bars across the top. As it turned out, I could. What I couldn't do, being little more athletic then than now, was get down again. After several increasingly anxious minutes of contemplating a drop onto the ground or the other bars, I sent my sister into Colonial to get my mother, who (the situation probably having been conveyed to her in a garbled manner to sound more alarming than it was) abandoned her cart and came racing around the corner. In the event, I had just figured out how to get down anyway...
Gills Creek forms the backdrop for the park, and I'm a bit surprised that no restaurant on either side of the creek has ever had a creek deck. It's rather peaceful and pleasant:
Here's Gills Creek on the other side of the bridge from the park:
Eightmile Branch forms the back boundry of Forest Lake Shopping Center and here's where it runs into Gills Creek:
Here is the park's third fixture, a merry-go-round:
Of course there is a drawback to having a park (or shopping center for that matter) bordered by creeks: Creeks rise.
Sometime back in the 90s, we had a 100 year flood in Forest Acres. At that point, a lot of Gamewell Drive was under water with parts of Sylvan Drive innundated as well. Given its position at the confluence of Eightmile Branch & Gills Creek, a good bit of Forest Lake Shopping Center was under water (most of the Garden Center area) as was all of the park. One of the local stations, I believe it was WLTX, had a crew in the parking lot shooting footage of the flood. I had to tell them they were looking at a park (I think I got on TV, but I can't recall for sure). At that point, the merry-go-round was completely invisible under at least six inches of water. For some reason, I was walking around in my flip-flops, having parked my car a good ways off. I considered wading out to the merry-go-round to ride a turn around on it to give them a good visual, but decided I wasn't going to risk my feet on who knows what washed up detritus without something more substantial shielding them. I know I took some flood pictures myself, if I ever find them again, I'll get them digitized and post a few.
Anyway, if you want to sit on a bench, climb the monkey-bars, or take a spin on the merry-go-round Forest Lake Park is still there for now..
UPDATE 15 May 2010 -- Here's a pointless quicktime video of the merry-go-round in motion from 26 Aug 2009
And here's Forest Lake Park in the snow from 13 Feb 2010:
UPDATE 10 Feb 2011 -- In April 2010, someone cut down a honking big pine tree, and put the segments around the merry-go-round:
UPDATE 4 April 2013: Tragedy!
I'm guessing that with the continuing renovations at the old Dobbs House/Forest Lake Spirits/Carolina Paws building, somebody noticed the park and the merry-go-round and decided it was a huge liability issue. At any rate, both remaining park fixtures, the merry-go-round and an old park bench have been torn out and the park is now just an empty lot except for the ring of buried bricks around where the merry-go-round used to be:
Here's two shots from my first and only TV interview at the park on 1 March 2011: