An outdated amphitheater is gone and a fire pit is coming to Liberty’s Bennett Park. The two projects are part of changes envisioned after a series of public input meetings held this year which resulted in a plan for major overhauls to three of the city’s most popular parks.
The amphitheater was a deteriorating concrete structure used very little in recent years. Neighbors expressed concern about its safety at the meetings and Parks and Recreation staff members were able to remove it this fall. In the same park, a local Eagle Scout candidate is making plans for building a new fire ring area near a relatively undeveloped area of the park, which could soon also be home to a new play set and an outdoor classroom.
The projects are part of a new set of master plans recently adopted for Bennett Park, City Park and Ruth Moore Park. The three parks, which are among the most visible, highly used and centrally located in the city, were the focus of an effort to upgrade a parks system which has seen few improvements in recent decades. The Parks Board has developed an overall vision to create a parks system which helps make Liberty a place people want to come, live, stay and play.
“We’ve had a long period of time where our parks have not received the maintenance they should have,” Liberty Parks and Recreation Director Janet Bartnik said. “In order to ensure that they are relevant to today’s residents, it was important to have public meetings in which we asked people what they would like to see in their parks.”
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The city hired outside consultants to re-think the parks, and design new “destination” elements which would appeal to both local residents and visitors. The results are three master plans, which include major changes, like rerouting roads through and around the parks, taking out old elements, like baseball diamonds, and adding elements, like expansive playgrounds, currently unavailable in any Liberty park.
Additional changes proposed for Bennett Park include the installation of long-hill slides that take advantage of the steep terrain of the park and several trail segments. At City Park, which is the most visible park in the city along 291 Highway, changes would include the addition of a play-scape area themed to the city including new spray-grounds, playgrounds and a skate park. At Ruth Moore Park, which is close to the Historic Liberty Square, the addition of a walking trail, and improved basketball courts would add to a more centrally located fire-station themed play and splash area.
As a part of a visioning for the three parks, the consulting firm held public meetings and visited a number of community groups, churches and schools. This kind of community input to help vision civic improvements is fairly common in Liberty. Mayor Lyndell Brenton says it is part of the culture of the city and is usually successful.
“It’s been a really good process to keep the citizens engaged and get the collective wisdom,” Brenton said. “There are a lot of citizens out there with good ideas. Input from a variety of perspectives gives us a lot better city.”
Members of the Liberty City Council are very supportive of the new parks plans and see them as part of the overall quality of life in Liberty. The problem is finding the money to make the park changes a reality. Brenton explains the challenge for the city is squaring the grand vision of park renovation with what is practical and what is already committed in the budget.
“It’s just like everything in life. There’s what you’d really like to do and then what you can do,” Brenton said. “The city council embraces the vision that we see championed by the parks department and the parks board as visualized by the proposals. Now, we have to balance the financial resources available to us. We have to figure a balance of where our funds can come from to make that vision a reality.”
Bartnik says the Parks Department and the Parks Board are committed to making whatever changes can be made with the money they have.
“We can’t afford to do a lot of the big visioning items with our current funding, but putting a plan in place is the first step, and we are doing what we can with the resources we already have,” Bartnik said.
These park plans come on the heels of a city-wide trails master plan adopted in May of 2014. The city is already seeing some progress on that plan as new developments are dedicating space to installing trail segments on the plan.
Bartnik says they will continue to work on renovation plans for the rest of the parks in the system. Liberty owns more than 500 acres of parkland, which includes the Fountain Bluff Sports Complex. It also runs the Liberty Community Center.