Central Lawrence may become home to the city's newest nature park.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider accepting a donation of about eight acres of property that includes a large pond and hardwood forest on the former site of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the Pinckney neighborhood.
"It is just a perfect place," said John McGrew, leader of the Outside for a Better Inside organization, one of the leading advocates for the project. "It could be a jewel of a nature park."
Lawrence-based Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center owns the property, and it is proposing to donate the back half of the site to the city. Bert Nash still has plans to eventually use the front half of the site to house a new medical office building that would provide space for both Bert Nash and the Heartland Community Health Clinic.
Both Bert Nash and Outside for a Better Inside are asking the city to name the park the Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park. Shaw, who died in 2010, was the longtime CEO of Bert Nash, which has its headquarters just a couple of blocks away from the proposed park site.
"It would be a very fitting tribute," David Johnson, the current CEO of Bert Nash, said. "Sandra really was a leader in the idea that good mental health is fundamental to good health in general. This park would promote that."
McGrew said his organization would work to raise more than $100,000 in grant money and private funds to build a trail around the multi-acre pond. Eventually, he hopes city officials will be successful in finding grant funding for at least two additional trails that would go through adjacent Burcham Park and Constant Park, which would link the new park to the downtown via a scenic route along the Kansas River.
McGrew said the park also could incorporate some of the interesting history that has happened at the site. The large pond was created as early settlers mined clay from the site to build many of the bricks used on Lawrence's older streets. The city also once played host to a community zoo, McGrew said.
"It'm thrilled about the possibilities," said McGrew, who has been a longtime real estate broker in the city. "This is the area where I lived as a kid and became connected with nature and thought I was Huckleberry Finn. I just think appreciating nature is so important to help keep all of us grounded."
Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation for the city, said the department is recommending the city accept the donation. He said the city should be able to maintain the park without any immediate increase in staff because the property is adjacent to Burcham Park, which already is maintained by city crews.
Hecker said the property likely would not be very usable by the public until a trail is developed at the site. McGrew is seeking grant funds for the trail through the Sunflower Foundation. Hecker said that group would make an announcement next year on grant funding.
"In theory, there could be a trail and access to the property a year from now," Hecker said. "I would say that's the trigger on this project. Until we have that public access, it really won't be a park."
City commissioners will consider accepting the donation at their 6:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.