With summer weather forecasted to begin dropping into cooler Autumn temperatures, residents have now missed a season at Little Red River Park.
© Herald photo by Tyler Clarke
A sign at Little Red River Park warns people to keep clear of the park, which has been closed all summer due to high water flow, with no end in sight.
Closed since June due to high water levels eroding the banks of the park’s namesake river, wiping out bridges and spreading debris throughout the low-lying area, the latest report has the park remaining closed indefinitely.
Not good enough, Fresh Air Experience owner Ron Horn said this week.
“The water has subsided weeks ago, and there’s still really no timetable to a plan,” he said.
“I think steps could be made to re-open it sooner than later.”
His downtown sports shop is a melting pot for the community’s outdoor enthusiasts. Horn said that many visitors to his business have had critical words for the city’s handling of Little Red River Park’s ongoing flood saga.
Although he recognizes that some lower-lying areas of the park are obviously unsafe, with undercut banks and precarious pedestrian bridges, the 1,200-acre park is massive, with many areas unaffected by flooding.
“To close the entire park for the entire summer -- all the picnic tables that are accessible from either side,” he said. “I don’t know how that is acceptable to the general public.”
Even the park’s western portion, which is at a higher elevation than its eastern section, has been closed.
“When we’re out there doing our outdoor activities, you see those picnic sites being used very, very heavily,” Horn said.
The park is important to the community, he said, noting that because it’s free to use it’s accessible to all residents, regardless of their socioeconomic standing.
Pehonan Parkway Board chair and city councillor Don Cody agrees with Horn’s assessment that the park’s been closed for a long time.
“I’m the first to say, yes it’s slow, but at the same time I think we have to be somewhat careful, too, that we don’t go and open something that’s not safe … and that isn’t very nice when they get there,” he said.
The water has subsided weeks ago, and there’s still really no timetable to a plan. Fresh Air Experience owner Ron Horn
It wasn’t a simple everyday flood situation, he clarified, noting that this year saw water levels reach “the highest we’ve ever seen in the history of the park.”
“There’s no use of hurrying into opening up a park that’s not going to be really ready,” he said. “We’ve got work to do and you want to have it as safe as you can for people.”
Opening up the park when it’s less than ideal is “not the way you operate a facility,” Cody said. “You operate it in the best possible manner for the public.”
Cody said that the park remains under study to determine the best means of reinforcing the riverbanks as well as the best way to repair the park’s bridges.
Recognizing the public’s frustration at being locked out of the park all summer, the city has posted photos of the park in its current state online, at www.citypa.com.
"There's a lot of frustration, I think, in the community that we aren't able to open it, but I think once you see the pictures you get a sense of, well, it's not a normal situation,” city manager Robert Cotterill said last week.
City administration is currently putting together a plan for council consideration -- tentatively ready in time for their Sept. 9 meeting.
Cody said that he’s optimistic that the public will see repair work begin soon.
“I’m sure that by fall we’ll have everything ready so that it can be utilized all year next year, providing we don’t get a deluge of water again from Anglin Lake.”