Humboldt volunteers make park a reality
Vada Aikins first stepped foot onto the wooded area on the west side of the Neosho River in 2008, its meadow was crowded with vines and overgrowth that blocked the view of the river.
“It was difficult to get down to the bank,” Aikins said. “It was treacherous.”
She met some fishermen who had made their way down to the bank as well, and they began discussing the “what ifs” of cleaning out the area for a community park. It planted a seed in her mind that would eventually blossom into a full-blown project. Now, five years later, the ribbon is going to be officially cut on the Neosho River Park.
Aikins is part of a group called the Humboldt Healthy Ecosystems committee, who has been meeting since 2010 to get the park in order. She said the park was originally a summer camping area for the Osage tribe, then it was a city park neighbored by a horse-racing track and fairgrounds in the late 1800s. At the turn of the century the city park faded away and was lost as a public recreation area. It is now decorated with picnic tables, benches, a pergola (a wooden shelter), rock amphitheater, walking trail and kiosk.
“I tend to be a little bit more optimistic (than others),” Humboldt City Administrator Larry Tucker said, while sitting on one of the benches by the river, “But I’m thinking this will be the number-one tourist attraction in Humboldt.”
Both he and Aikins gathered at the park Tuesday afternoon, after morning rain showers had cleared. The sun was hidden behind the high canopy of trees as two boys threw nets into the river. One of the Humboldt city crew workers began to put the finishing touches on the lawn, mowing and edging the grass around the parking area.
The ribbon cutting ceremonies, which begin with tours at 4 p.m. on Saturday, represent five years of hard work — along with help from countless volunteers.
“I ALMOST hate to give anyone credit, because there are so many people that helped,” Aikins emphasized.
The HHE committee began fundraising in 2010. They made a total of $5,000, and the city matched $10,000 for the steps and rails along the Neosho River. Then, in 2011, when HHE joined with Humboldt Pride, they were selected for a $5,000 grant. The process took one year, and they received the money after six assessments and two town meetings. Then, along with a $2,000 grant from Partners in Pride (an effort of Sunny Shreeve) and the donation of rock and labor for the amphitheater from Joe Works (she estimated the donation value at $30,000), the park saw the majority of its completion this year.
The park’s name had recently been chiseled on the sign by the entrance, its rock was donated by Works as well. Bryan Weide, along with his fiancee, Shelia Bolling and her son, Jess Bolling, of Weide’s Cemetery and Memorial Service, completed the first side of the sign for the ceremonies on Saturday.
An aspect of education is one of the major stipulations for the park, and the volunteers have taken it into full consideration. The amphitheater will be used as an “outdoor classroom” and the park is equipped with Wi-Fi Internet by Kwi-Com. Westar Energy provided the kiosk and telephone pole for the Internet, along with the construction of the pergola. All of the tree species and plants will be labeled for students to identify and research for classes, or on their free time. The concrete walkway winds down to the river, where there is a small dock for fishing or relaxing.
“It has been a great exercise in volunteer coordination,” Tucker said.
There has also been careful consideration of environmental hazards as well, particularly from the river.
“Everything we have done has been done knowing it is going to flood at some point,” Aikins said. The park has been engineered to survive floods, save for some of the plants.
Aikins said there will be native wildflowers planted in the “prayer circle,” which the volunteers named when members of the Osage tribe came to visit the park and suggested it.