Thu, 08/04/22-3:56PM

Ever since taking office in 2017, Mayor Toby Barker and his administration has made it one of their missions to maintain the “Hattiesburg way” of going after big projects – and getting them.

In perhaps the biggest get of those five years, Barker recently announced the upcoming addition of a new $10.5 million water park in Hattiesburg, along with the relocation and expansion of the baseball parks at Cameron Field. The matter was discussed during a press conference Aug. 3 at the large pavilion at Kamper Park, where Barker was joined by officials from the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, the Hattiesburg Public School District, Hattiesburg City Council, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, Visit Hattiesburg and the Hattiesburg Optimist Club.

“Kamper Park is, by all intents and purposes, Hattiesburg’s version of Central Park (in New York City),” Barker said. “It is one of the oldest parks in the area, donated by John Kamper in 1907, and it’s a park where generations of Hattiesburgers have played – either on a baseball field, a tennis court, or on a playground.

“It has been an asset for the neighborhoods and The Avenues, as well as the entire city; it houses the Hattiesburg Zoo, which has become of the crown jewels of our city and the premier zoo of Mississippi. Last year, over 230,000 people visited our zoo. Over the past year-plus, we have discussed what’s next for Kamper Park, because when you have an asset, you don’t sit idly by – you continue to invest in it, and when it comes to its future, you dream big.”

The water park, known as Serengeti Springs, will be located at the current site of Cameron Field, on a 3.5-acre plot of land on Kamper Park that borders Hardy Street to the north, Park Avenue to the west and Gordon’s Creek to the east. Cameron Field, in turn, will be relocated to Jaycee Park.

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Construction of the water park will take place in two phases. Work on Phase I – which begins this month and is expected to be complete in summer of 2023 – will include a Fusion Fortress Water Play Structure, an entry building with a gift shop and showers, a 150,000-gallon lazy river, a swim-up pool and bar, group pavilions, cabanas, food trucks, a staff office building, and loungers and Adrirondack chairs. The Fusion Fortress will consist of nine slides of varying heights, along with multiple water play areas and two bucket dump stations.

Underneath the Fusion Fortress will be a Life Floor, which provides a cushioned floor that is anti-microbial and will hold no standing water. The Life Floor will feature an additional 19 spray toys.

As an expansion of the zoo’s Africa section, the fortress will feature a design that highlights the animals and environments of that area. In keeping with that, Serengeti Springs also will offer special animal presentations, along with tropical animals who will live at the park.

Work on Phase II of the water park will begin anywhere from two to four years after the opening of Phase I. That phase will consist of a tower of four water slides.

The $10.5 million price tag for Serengeti Springs will be funded by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission’s earned revenues, along with the existing 2-percent restaurant tax at Hattiesburg restaurants. The water park will be designed to be self-sufficient and profitable.

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Cameron Field, which currently is home to Dixie Boys Baseball, will receive several improvements upon its relocation as part as a shared-use project with the Hattiesburg Public School District. The new location at Jaycee Park will feature one dedicated baseball field, which will be designed to flex into a second field during the summer months.

It will feature measures – including but not limited to – increased capacity, increased bullpen space, synthetic turf infields with permanent striping, turf infield/sand base outfields on both fields with and under-drain system for rain events, bleachers outfitted with an awning and upgraded concession areas, along with an entry plaza that will accommodate all memorials, including engravings from Cameron Field.

“This … will be one of the highest-quality fields for Dixie Boys Baseball,” Barker said. “There will be a synthetic turf infield, which can drain up to 40 inches of rainfall per hour.

“Furthermore, all of the commemorative signs, pavers, engravings, foul poles, and even the flagpole from the current Cameron Field will move to its new home at Jaycee Park, keeping that story alive as Dixie Boys Baseball moves to its new home. In addition, the other half of this $4 million renovation of Jaycee Park will include a new state-of-the-art facility for the Hattiesburg High girls’ softball program. This will be one of the highest-quality high school softball facilities in the state of Mississippi, one that our girls, coaches and parents can be proud of.”

Practices and games for Hattiesburg High School softball will be moved to the facilities at Tatum Park until relocation of Cameron Field is complete.

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That project, which begins immediately and is estimated to cost slightly over $4 million, will be funded primarily by the 1-percent sales tax increase at Hattiesburg restaurants that was approved by voters in April 2019. Contributions to funding also will come from the Hattiesburg Public School District, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and Visit Hattiesburg.

Since being instated, the 1-percent sales tax increase has helped to fund Parks and Recreatoin Department measures such as a walking path extension at Duncan Lake, batting cages at Vernon Dahmer Park, and basketball courts on East 8th Street, among other measures.

“Our city is the dynamic, forward-thinking city in Mississippi, and one reason for that is we believe the most important generation is the next generation,” Barker said. “We saw this (with the approval of the 1-percent tax), when residents of Hattiesburg approved (it) with an 81 percent margin of victory, with half of the proceeds of this new tax going toward parks improvements.

“This afforded us the capacity to think strategically about the future of our parks system, and how that could impact quality of life and tourism going forward.”

The Hattiesburg Public School District is contributing $950,000 for the project.

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‘”Built for Greatness’ isn’t just a slogan we use to celebrate our students – it’s a commitment to continue to uplift positive changes in our schools and in our community,” district superintendent Robert Williams said. “We are truly ‘Burg built – we are strong, we are leaders, we are resilient, we are persistent, and most of all, we are unified as a community.”

To honor the memories associated with Cameron Field at Kamper Park, the City of Hattiesburg is making commemorative jars with field dirt, which are available at no cost to local players, coaches, families and friends of the Dixie Boys Youth Program and the Hattiesburg Optimist Club. As a limited amount of the memorabilia is available, requests will be honored as they are received through the form available online at

“We know that event with new state-of-the-art fields for baseball and softball, there will be mixed feelings about Cameron Field moving from Kamper Park,” Barker said. “We know the century of history that occurred on its grounds and the memories made by generations of families.

“We are committed to telling that story, with historic markers at the new water park, signage and memorials that will be preserved and commemorative infield dirt that will be made available to those interested. In the end, we draw strength and vision from those who came before us. However, we are also empowered by those same leaders to make decisions for the betterment of current and future generations.”

As far as parking for the new projects, the construction of the new field at Jaycee Park will include a new parking lot, with shared capacity of on-street parking along Quinn Street and neighboring lots, including the Ben McNair Recreation Center and Hattiesburg High School. The zoo will continue its shared agreement for parking space with Hardy Street Baptist Church, in addition to the zoo’s current parking.