By Debby Woodin
An overlook telling the story of the May 22 tornado and a butterfly garden could become part of Cunningham Park if funding comes together. A new park also is being added to Joplin’s system as the result of tornado donations.
City officials are seeking a grant through a partnership with Cornell University, Drury University and ReLeaf Missouri to fund the overlook and butterfly garden as part of the effort to memorialize 2011’s historic tornado for future generations.
Parks director Chris Cotten has proposed the overlook where a house, built in 1911 by Carl Owen and known for it’s row of high windows, was destroyed in the tornado.
Cotten said architecture students at Drury University have designed an overlook with storyboards that explain the tornado’s progression through the city. The storm devastated the neighborhood around the park, once known as the mining town of Blendville where one of Joplin’s early bankers and mayors, Thomas Cunningham, built houses for miners and donated the land for the park.
The cost of the proposed overlook could be $300,000 to $350,000.
Cotten said that part of the money for the project could come from a Wal-Mart grant the city received to restore the park, which was heavily damaged by the twister. That grant was $250,000.
“Part of what I promised Wal-Mart is to do an educational component to the park, which ties into (the purpose of) the overlook,” Cotten said. He said that Tracy Sooter, associate professor at the Drury School of Architecture, and Keith Tidball of Cornell University have been helping to devise the project. name spellings checked.
The spiral-shaped butterfly garden, similar to the current volunteer tribute nearby, will be landscaped with plants and shrubs that attract butterflies, as well as a rose garden.
“Drury designed the volunteer tribute and they’re going to try to make it similar to what’s already there,” said Cotten. “We want to tie it together (with the volunteer tribute) so that it looks all the same.
“It’s going to be really nice,” Cotten said of the design.
Other features yet to come for Cunningham Park include two picnic shelters, one of them similar to the Victorian-styled band pavilion destroyed in the storm. A bathroom also will be located south of the volunteer tribute.
Work at two other parks damaged by the tornado — Parr Hill and Garvin Park — is ongoing although they have been closed to the public temporarily because of the discovery that lead contamination has been found in soil uprooted by fallen trees. The existing soil will be removed and new soil put in place. There is no estimate yet of how long that work will take.
“We will continue to work on the (restoration) projects at the park,” while the lead remediation work is going on, Cotten said. “It’s just going to finished later than I originally anticipated, but everybody wants the parks to be safe and we will bring them back better than before the storm.”
New features being constructed for Parr Hill Park include a skate pod for skateboarders, an additional playground near 18th Street, a parking lot at 17th Street and Kansas Avenue, and a fenced dog park, if grant funding comes through, to replace ponds that had stood in the center of the park.
Donations are still being accepted for other projects.
While work on the existing parks continues, a volunteer effort is helping to put a new park on Joplin’s map.
A neighborhood park is being created in the Cedar Ridge subdivision, near 32nd Street and Country Club Road.
A three-acre tract was donated to the city by Cedar Ridge housing developer Phillip Brown in 2001. The city had not made funds available for development of the park but church groups who wanted to help with tornado recovery agreed to provide equipment and labor for the park, which is located in the tornado zone.
The Woods Chapel Bible Fellowship of Blue Springs is currently installing a playground in the park. In the future, the United Methodist Office of Creative Ministries will put up a picnic shelter.
Cotten said the city will plant 20 trees in the fall to replace ones that were knocked down in the storm.
“The residents of this neighborhood have been asking for quite some time about the development of this park and now we have the opportunity (because of the contributions) to do so,” Cotten said.
The city of Joplin bought six lots to expand Cunningham Park after the May 22, 2011, tornado. Those include three residential lots at 2420, 2422 and 2426 Porter Ave., and three lots across the street that constituted one tract at 2423 Porter Ave.