Clenece Hills can picture the type of party that the community could throw atop Sesquicentennial Point to celebrate the state’s 150th birthday in 2011.
There would be cowboys, Indians, buffaloes, cattle and a whole cast of other performers participating in an outdoor theatrical production detailing the early history of the area.
She even has a name for it: Pageant at the Point.
“All during Lawrence’s sesquicentennial, it seems every place I went to make a speech, there was somebody asking why we couldn’t resurrect the wonderful pageant the city had back in 1954 to celebrate its centennial,” said Hills, a semiretired public school teacher.
In 1954, Hills said, the community had a pageant at Haskell Stadium that allowed the crowd to watch the first 100 years of the city unfold on an outdoor stage.
The script still exists in archives at Kansas University, and Hills figures it wouldn’t be that hard to add another 50-some years to the production to bring it up to current day. Or, perhaps, if the community wants to get really ambitious, a new script could be written about Kansas’ first 150 years.
“I really don’t have any preconceived notion,” said Hills, who said the event likely couldn’t be on the actual Kansas Day, since Jan. 29 is not very conducive to outdoor events. “I’m just trying to stir things up.”
Hills will be host to a meeting at 3 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., to brainstorm ways to celebrate the state’s 150th anniversary in 2011.
Whatever ideas come out of the meeting, Hills hopes Sesquicentennial Point — about 90 acres of hilltop ground northeast of the Clinton Lake Dam — is a focal point of the celebration. Hills, as a past president of the Lawrence Sesquicentennial Commission, helped raise about $300,000 for the park, which opened to commemorate Lawrence’s 150th birthday in 2004.
The original fundraising allowed for a road to be built on the property, for a small plaza area to be constructed and for a stone walkway highlighting each of Lawrence’s first 150 years to be installed.
The site provides a view of Clinton Lake, the Wakarusa Valley, and if you hike high enough, a glimpse of the Kaw Valley as well.
But the park is lacking bathrooms, electricity and any significant parking. The master plan for the area also calls for an amphitheater — a covered stage with the adjacent hillside shaped in such a way to accommodate perhaps up to 5,000 people.
“Right now, those are just wishful plans,” said Ernie Shaw, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.
The city doesn’t have the money to devote to upgrades at the park, but Hills hopes a major event at the site would renew enthusiasm for private fundraising. Estimates for how much money is needed to complete the park are not up to date. But Shaw said estimates of several years ago placed the figure between $1 million and $1.5 million.
“I’m certainly not naive about the challenge,” Hills said. “I don’t think we can do it all with just individual donations. I think we’re at the point where if the point is ever to be truly finished, we’re going to have to get some corporate support.”
Shaw said it remains to be seen how much can be done before 2011, and how large of an event the point could handle. But he said his department is supportive of drumming up interest for the area.
“We still have a lot of people who ask us where the point is at,” Shaw said. “I think anything that gives people an idea of how beautiful it is out there would be great.”