Freedom Park Opens with a Splash
Much to the delight of Van Buren’s citizens and leaders, Freedom Park is open, showing real progress in downtown revitalization.
According to city planner Joe Hurst, the concept behind the picturesque new park is “to create an exciting, central gathering spot for the community and visitors alike to celebrate the freedoms secured by veterans.”
People immediately have started enjoying its many amenities. Two covered pavilions, roofed to match the tile-topped train depot, are already in use by the Farmers Market and available for other activities. Green space, a stage, an interactive fountain, benches and picnic tables invite people in. Since opening, the park already has welcomed hundreds who have gotten wet at its new splash pad.
The city will soon begin Phase II of the project, which will be known as Veterans Memorial Plaza. Located across from Freedom Park, the site will display flags of all military branches and first responders. A fountain will move pools of water downward into a star-shaped water feature, which will be adorned with a battle cross donated by a local Eagle Scout. Each side has monuments and service plaques and will be lighted for night viewing. The entire plaza will have period light poles and landscaping that create an environment where visitors may reverently reflect on the sacrifices made by veterans.
“Both sites embody the spirit of the ‘Four Freedoms’ that were highlighted 75 years ago in a famous speech by President Franklin Roosevelt as our nation prepared for entry into World War II,” explained Hurst. They are Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.
A series of civic projects, including a new fire station, police station and senior activity center, have been achieved in just over three years. Main Street has been a primary focus, with groups such as Van Buren Original and The Old Town Merchants Association concentrating to attract visitors and recruit new businesses to fill existing properties. Their efforts have resulted in new business openings and the restoration of several historic buildings.
“My hope is that this will encourage us to do more,” Hurst said. “... I heard citizens say they never thought Van Buren would have a downtown park like this. Mayor Freeman told me similar stories about the city’s spectacular new library that was built just a while back. And if I’m being honest, born and raised in Van Buren, I’m not sure I ever expected to have them either. But my expectations have risen. I expect more because I see the passion in our downtown groups. I marvel at the innovation being applied throughout our school district. I’m excited about the energizing leadership in elected officials. And I’m encouraged by churches, businesses, civic groups and others investing their time and resources in the service of others. There’s still work to do with real challenges ahead, but together we can move forward. We can expect to do more.”
Freedom Park’s free splash pad opens daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Farmers Market is held 7 a.m.- p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays and 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, when downtown businesses stay open for “Living Local,” with shopping, dining and street entertainers.
By Brittany Ransom
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.