Archive for Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Brush removal hoped to fight vandalism at Wells Overlook

October 15, 2002

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An army of volunteers is about to storm Wells Overlook Park and uproot acres of trees as part of Douglas County's attack on litter, vandalism and other problems at the rural site.

This fall, more than 200 volunteers will be called up to lend a collective hand in clearing 8 acres of brush and trees at the 17-acre park south of Lawrence.

The open areas would be reborn with walking trails and native prairie grasses, part of a larger plan to restore the hilltop to its onetime perch as a rural oasis reserved for quiet reflection and nature education.

"It's a huge job," said Jere McElhaney, chairman of the Douglas County Commission and leader of its volunteer Wells Overlook Restoration Committee. "It's something we've started, and we don't want to quit. We can't quit."

McElhaney will take the committee's detailed restoration plan to Wednesday night's meeting of the county commission, set to begin at 6:35 at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.

Commissioners endorsed the concept in March. This time, McElhaney said, the committee simply wants to bring other commissioners up to speed on what remains a volunteer project  but ultimately could cost $10,000 to bring in bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

"We don't have 1,000 laborers to go up there and do it any other way," McElhaney said. "Truthfully, it's more of a job than we probably thought we could handle. But we can do it."

In June, volunteers from Heartland Community Church helped the county clear a handful of trees from the park, which is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a hilltop southeast of U.S. Highway 59 and County Road 458.

The work was suspended, however, to wait for cooler weather and development of a clearer picture of what the site would become.

Today, plans developed free of charge for the committee by Landplan Engineering call for:

l Removal of about 8 acres of trees surrounding the existing Wells Overlook tower. The area then would be burned and replanted with native grasses, to make it closer to the park's condition when it was donated more than 20 years ago to the county.

l Repairing or upgrading the existing sand box, known as a "tot lot." An existing shelter and picnic tables also would remain.

l Hand-clearing four trails to weave through the park, including new prairie areas and remaining trees.

l Creation of a circular vehicle turnaround area at the end of the existing 40-vehicle parking lot and installation of an accessible ramp connecting the lot and park area.

"It'll provide better visibility," said C.L. Maurer, a landscape architect for Landplan and member of the committee. "The thinking goes that it will help keep some of the maintenance (costs) and vandalism down."

Nathan Rightmire, an amateur photographer drawn Monday afternoon to the park's natural setting, said he wouldn't mind seeing trees removed to restore the hilltop's native prairie.

"I'm not a big fan of clear-cutting anywhere  I consider myself somewhat of a nature buff  but I am in support of restoration," Rightmire said between snapping shots of grasshoppers in the grass and sunlight shining on cedar berries. "If they can restore it back to the way it was before people came around, that could be a good thing."

McElhaney said it would take plenty of people to get the job done. He already has a list of about 220 volunteers interested in helping to clear and clean up the park; several contractors also have offered to provide tools and other equipment.

But, knowing how much work is ahead, McElhaney said he wouldn't mind a few more signing up.

"We're getting ready to go," he said.

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