Van Buren park ideas shared

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Short-term and long-term goals to improve the Van Buren park system were shared Monday night during a public hearing at the Municipal Complex.

Suggestions ran the spectrum from an Olympic-sized swimming pool and pickleball courts, soccer fields and a disc golf course to hiking and biking trails.

“The sky is the limit as far as ideas go,” City Planner Joe Hurst said upon opening the meeting. “This is the beginning of the process for a park plan for the city.”

Hurst said the parks and recreation committee has been “brain-storming” with the public to see how citizens want to spend revenues generated by a sales tax approved by voters in July 2012. Fifteen percent is earmarked for parks.

The city plans to apply for a 50-50 Arkansas State Parks matching grant to go toward funding parks projects, Hurst said. Each application will be presented before a state panel, which reviews the applications to determine the amount of funding each application will receive in accordance to priority. The maximum any applicant may receive is $250,000.

Jerry Goodson proposed putting two pickleball courts in a “pocket park” in an area bordered by North Park Street, Crape Myrtle, Bon Air and South Park Road.

“It would not take a lot of money,” Goodson said, “and would be a great sport for us old guys who can’t play tennis any more or do a lot of running.”

Richard Jamarez said he could not think of a better investment for the city to bring people to the community than a swimming pool.

“It is very urgent that we start thinking about helping our kids,” he said. “We need to make a big splash and think about an Olympic-size pool which is covered and could be used year-around. Let our kids know we care about them.”

Jamarez also pointed out that the Van Buren High School swim team has no place to practice locally.

Committee member Michael Brammer said repairing the existing pool in Dr. Louis Peer Memorial City Park has been ruled out because of the expense.

“However, splash pads could be a short-term goal,” he said, “while a swimming pool would be a long-term goal.

Alderman Max Blake said a swimming pool is No. 1 with local citizens when discussing park improvements.

“I have sat in a lot of homes over the last couple of years,” Blake said, “and most want a swimming pool, not just for the kids but for adults. It is a win-win situation.”

Lee Holland suggested improvements in and around Lake Cap Bedell in the city park, including an amphitheater, bridges, water falls , benches and more lighting to attract people and events.

“Quality work can be done by volunteers,” Holland pointed out. “Churches, civic groups and other want to take pride in our city.”

Jim Petty said Van Buren needs to be a more pedestrian-conscious city, urging city officials to develop a trail system for walking, biking and running.

“This is an investment,” Petty said. “It improves the quality of life here and has a big payback. We have to sell it.”

Hurst also outlined the city’s plans to upgrade Veterans Park in downtown.

Alderman Donna Parker said Veterans Park should be a living memorial.

“Kids could be playing there with their families,” she said. “It could include a farmers’ market and splash pad and tie in with the historic courthouse to bring life into downtown.”

Parker said she also would like to see the city move forward with Eric Savage’s plan to put an 18-hole disc golf course in the city park.

Savage said the course would be low-cost with no maintenance except for moving.

“Tournaments bring a lot a money into a city,” he said. “It is a family event and will blend in with walking trails.”

Petty said the city park is still in the heart of the city and under utilized.

“It is time to get out ahead of the curve and improve our existing facilities,” he said.

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