Years ago, a number of local and area residents started to think about Lawrence's upcoming 150th birthday and how this important date should be commemorated.
Various groups were formed to study different facets of the event, and one group was given the challenge of identifying a project or effort to recognize the 150th anniversary of Lawrence's founding.
A number of suggestions were made, but members of the Horizon Committee emphasized the goal should be something of a major, permanent nature, something that would make Lawrence residents 25, 50 or 100 years from now say, "Isn't it great Lawrence residents back in the early 2000s had the foresight to plan and develop a project such as this."
In a way, it is similar to the situation with Centennial Park near Ninth and Iowa streets. Land for this 50-acre park was acquired with funds generated during the city's centennial year by a pageant depicting the founding and development of Lawrence. It was a grand show, and proceeds were used to buy the land now known as Centennial Park. It was on the western edge of Lawrence and it's likely there were many who thought it was a poor use of funds, but consider how fortunate the city is today to have this sizable park for the enjoyment of local and area residents.
With this in mind, Horizon Committee members considered various options but eventually decided to take advantage of the unique and wonderful situation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land just east of Clinton Lake.
The idea was to design a park with a layout that would allow multiple uses, including an area that could be developed into an amphitheater where all kinds of events could be staged. The park site is approximately 800 acres and is located north of the spillway, and east of Clinton Dam stretching to the YSI sports fields.
It is a truly magnificent site and offers tremendous possibilities. One of the features of this park will be the development of "Sesquicentennial Point" at the far northwest corner of the park. A plaza will be built at this location with the idea that an adjacent amphitheater could be tied into the plaza to create a truly special area for all types of programs and events.
The park itself could become one of the nation's finest city parks with a large reservoir on the western edge, the YSI complex on the east, the city golf course on the south and the Baker University wetlands nearby. The overall area, not including the wetlands, is approximately 1,500 acres.
Consider a park this size for a city the size of Lawrence. Not many cities could match this wonderful open space.
The city will grow, and its boundaries will expand. To have this large open green space for multiple uses by the city will be a tremendous asset.
Clenece Hills has been an unrelenting leader of the Sesquicentennial Commission, and her enthusiasm and vision have been infectious. She and members of the Horizon Committee have pushed hard to make the park project a magnificent legacy of the city's 150th birthday.
A visit to the Sesquicentennial Point site provides an ideal view of the overall park site and the natural beauty of the area. It is difficult not to get excited about the project when looking over the vast area and imagining what could be developed and how this area might look 25 or 50 years from now.
Few cities have the potential to develop such a site to enhance their future growth and development. It presents a rare opportunity, and Hills and her associates are doing everything they can to make this dream a reality.
It will be a great gift to the city and its residents to mark the year 2004, the 150th anniversary of the city's founding.
Those living in Lawrence in 2025 or 2050 and later are sure to be grateful for the vision and foresight of the people of Lawrence back in 2000 to 2004.
Hills, along with Mark Hecker and Fred DeVictor of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, deserve an enthusiastic thank you from today's Lawrence residents for their vision and determination to see the potential to develop this area for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations.
Everyone is a winner in this project, and hopefully, thousands of local residents will visit Sesquicentennial Point to view and recognize the beauty and potential of this park.
P.S. It might be wise for those making the trip to sprinkle some sulfur around their ankles to discourage the aggressive crop of chiggers now residing in the area, ready to crawl up legs and leave their ugly, itchy spots.