Ready to play: ES hosts playground ribbon cutting, open house at Lake Leatherwood

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The merry-go-round is a big hit at the new playground at Lake Leatherwood.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

The Eureka Springs Parks Commission has been working to improve the facilities at Lake Leatherwood City Park over the past year, and that progress was on full display Saturday, March 4.

The commission hosted a ribbon cutting for the new playground at the park, followed by an open house where parks director Justin Huss showed everyone the new and improved features of the park. Huss said he’s proud of how the playground has turned out, saying his favorite part of the new structure is a tie between the slide and the swings.

“The little raft swing has actually turned out to be pretty neat for the kids. We thought it was just kind of a swing, but you start jerking on the ropes and it bounces around like a whitewater raft,” Huss said.

He pointed out how important it was to the commission to have as many swings as possible at the playground.

“The biggest thing we heard from everybody is, ‘There’s never enough swings.’ We heard that over and over and over,” Huss said. “We doubled our swing offering and added some different types.”

He said one of the swings allows a parent and child to swing together. That is one of the many ways the playground meets the needs of children with disabilities, Huss said.

“The whole playground meets our ADA requirements. The merry-go-round and the swing sets have specific ADA functions,” he said. “The nice thing is they’re not standing alone. They’re not set to the side. They can get right in there with the other kids in the same place and do the same thing. That was very important to us.”

He continued, “We just couldn’t be more pleased with it. It’s a testament to listening to our citizens and getting that input. We intend to keep doing that. That’s what today is about … to give people a chance to talk and look and see what’s going on here.”

The color scheme of the playground, green and brown, evokes the nature surrounding the structure. Huss said this was intentional.

“We really went back and forth on color schemes. We wanted to use the brown to keep it subtle,” he said. “It’s a pretty substantial structure, so we didn’t want it to overpower everything else.”

Parks employee Vince Peschka said he has enjoyed seeing kids come out and play at Lake Leatherwood while renovating the cabins.

“It’s just been great hearing all the kids playing. Since we put it up, word’s gotten out pretty quick,” Peschka said. “It’s been nice. We’ve really had a lot of kids showing up here. They’re having a blast. People are saying, ‘Wow, we don’t have this in Berryville or surrounding areas.’ ”

The renovation of the cabins at Lake Leatherwood, Huss said, is another big project coming up this year. He said the exterior work has been completed on the cabins, with only interior work left to do. Finishing up the exterior work, he said, posed some challenges.

“There was a lot of digging, a lot of patching … everything took longer than you’d expect,” Huss said, saying the work will continue even as visitors begin renting the cabins. “The interiors are going to be remodeled one at a time.”

Other new features at the park, he said, include bike camp cabins, more parking and a new fleet of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and pedal-boats. The commission didn’t expand the parking area, he said, without considering green space first.

“It’s a real balance of trying to get some more parking without overtaking the green space. We’re planting grass and defining it,” he said. “Like everything else, these projects are still underway. It shouldn’t be this warm this early. We really expected another couple of weeks to finish out, but [the parking] is going to help tremendously.”

For those who haven’t been to Lake Leatherwood in a while, Huss said, there’s quite a bit to do now.

“You can bring your own boat. We have a boat ramp. We have almost 23 miles of trails out here, various levels for everyone,” he said. “There’s swimming and camping … just a little bit of everything.”

He said he’s hoping to get some new programming started at the park by the end of the year, such as a guided hike.

“It’s just a really amazing place. We’re very fortunate to have it. Very few cities have this type of park at their disposal, so we really want to do everything we can do to provide a place for our locals to come out,” he said.

He encouraged everyone to come see the new improvements when they can.

“If you haven’t been here even in a couple of months, it looks a whole lot different than it did,” Huss said. “We’re excited. It’s going to be a good year.”

Huss said the parks commission is always seeking more volunteers, saying the people of Eureka Springs have a variety of expertise that would benefit the city’s park system.

“We have a dedicated staff that works extremely hard, but like most place, we don’t have enough,” Huss said. “We really rely on volunteers to help us in all areas from cleanups to spring management. There’s so many things we could use help with.”

He added, “These are the city parks for Eureka Springs. We have almost an acre of park land per citizen, and that’s unheard of. We want people to be stewards. We want people to preserve and protect our parks.”

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