A parks consultant, with public input, has come up with an ambitious plan for Lawton’s Elmer Thomas Park.
Halff Associates presented its plan for a $25 million makeover to the Parks and Recreation Commission last week. The plan is expected to be presented to the City Council at its April 11 meeting, where the Council may take action.
For the most part, the plan calls for keeping the park in its natural state with only a few added structures. We favor some of the features suggested, such as a skateboard park with pump track, more walking/biking trails, and half- and full-sized basketball courts.
The plan calls for the skateboard park, pump track (a circular track consisting of rollers and berms for skateboarders and BMXers) and full-sized basketball courts to be located behind Days Inn across Northwest 2nd Street. A pedestrian bridge will carry skaters from Elmer Thomas to the skateboard park. Skateboarders have been working toward a second park in Lawton for several years. We think now is the right time to reward them for their patience with their own park.
Existing walking/biking trails would be expanded. A trail is envisioned to circle Lake Helen with a promenade along the south/southwest shoreline. Basketball and pickleball courts would be added, along with an aquatics center featuring a lazy river. Kayaking would be available on Lake Helen.
Longtime residents of the park would not be forgotten either. A prairie dog sanctuary would be established in the north/northwest part of the park. The idea is to surround the area with a berm to limit the black-tailed critters to one area of the park instead of them taking over the park as they have now. We reserve judgment on how effective the berm will be, but our money is on the dogs breaking out.
What we like most about the plan is that new features, such as the skateboard park and an aquatics center, will be built either in the middle of the park or across the street.
The park, which is loved for its open space, will remain mostly natural. In fact, the plan calls for some roads through the park to be closed or turned into emergency access only. The specific details are explained in a story elsewhere in today’s paper.
Elmer Thomas Park has long been a crown jewel of Lawton. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the natural beauty and openness of the park. The monuments section pays tribute to Lawton’s large veteran population and affords a place for quiet contemplation. We are glad the designers want to keep the park essentially the way it is and not overrun it with indoor facilities.
We have just two main concerns. One is the plan to start the makeover with an aquatics center. We think the patience of the skateboarders should be rewarded and their part of the park should be built first.
Our other concern is money. The plan sounds wonderful and we think the improvements would be nice, but so far a funding source has not been identified. We will be interested to see what the City Council thinks of the plan and how it plans to fund the improvements.