By Susan Redden
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Today’s temperatures in the 70s invariably will attract some area residents to local parks for some summer-like recreation.
Winter can be a downtime for park systems. Crews generally catch up on maintenance and prepare to shift into high gear in the spring.
That’s hardly the case for the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department, which is overseeing the construction of a new swimming pool complex, directing the rehabilitation and upgrading of parks damaged by the May 2011 tornado, and helping with the planting of thousands of trees to replace those destroyed in the storm.
Chris Cotten, Joplin parks director, is quick to point out that park improvements have been boosted by generosity from volunteers and organizations throughout Missouri and nationwide.
In fact, one new city park in southwest Joplin was developed entirely by volunteers. Ceremonies set for 11 a.m. today will celebrate volunteer efforts in the park located in the Cedar Ridge subdivision near 28th Street off South Country Club Drive.
“The city was given the property, but with all that we were doing after the tornado, we didn’t have the money or manpower to take it on,” Cotten said. “Then all these other groups just stepped forward.”
Officials and volunteers from the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will be on hand today to dedicate a park shelter that church volunteers constructed, with funding by the church group’s Office of Creative Ministries.
“We’ve done a lot of work on homes and with families, but we wanted to do a community project as well,” said Dan Steska, disaster response coordinator for the statewide church group.
A new playground was constructed by CrossWay Bible Church of Blue Springs.
Another park that has received boundless help in donations and volunteer labor was seeing a lot of activity on Thursday.
At Cunningham Park, some adults were having lunch or walking on trails. The action was at the Boomtown play area, which was being swarmed by children enjoying ramps, slides and the climbing wall.
Amy Obermiller, of Joplin, watched as 5-year-old son Grady took advantage of a pole to slide down from the structure.
“He wants to be a fireman,” she said.
Obermiller said there’s much in the park for children to enjoy. She said she remembers sitting with Grady under big shade trees in the park before the tornado.
“I miss the trees, but the kids don’t seem to mind,” she said.
The city has planted 161 new trees in the park, to memorialize the 161 lives lost in the tornado.
Andrew Clemmons, of Joplin, was at the park with Cassie, his 19-month-old daughter. He said she likes the slides.
More improvements are planned at Cunningham, Cotten said, including a rose garden, additional parking and another leg of the walking trail.
“We’re just finishing the last picnic shelter there,” he said.
Construction is under way on a $5.8 million pool at Schifferdecker Park. The complex will include two diving boards, four water flumes, a climbing wall, a log roll and a lazy river, and will accommodate competition swimming as the home of the Joplin Swim Team.
Renovations also are under way at Parr Hill and Garvin parks.
Efforts were slowed, Cotten said, because lead in the soil unearthed by the tornado had to be addressed before other construction could begin.
At Garvin Park, playground equipment has been repaired and the shelter has been reroofed, but the park won’t be opened for use until grass can be established.
Among improvements at the renovated Parr Hill Park will be playgrounds, three shelters, a children’s splash pad, off-street parking and a dog park. Previously, the park had a single playground and shelter, and no off-street parking.
AMONG THOSE EATING LUNCH at Cunningham Park on Thursday were members of Sojourn Collegiate Ministry, a 22-member group of students and staff members from colleges in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They are volunteering in Joplin over their spring break.