Bentonville’s Gilmore Park aims to get bigger and better after donations of money, land

City receives additional land, $257,795 for improvements

Anika Hingerl of Bentonville helps Oliver Sanders, 6, up a jungle gym, Thursday, November 16, 2023 at Gilmore Park in Bentonville. The Bentonville City Council on Tuesday approved a $257,795 donation for park improvements. “We really like it because it’s near from our home,” said Anika Hingerl, an au pair to twins, adding that she takes them to the Gilmore Park almost every day. “They have swings, they have slides, and it’s just to get the energy out of the kids.” Visit nwaonline.com/photos for today's photo gallery...(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Anika Hingerl of Bentonville helps Oliver Sanders, 6, up a jungle gym, Thursday, November 16, 2023 at Gilmore Park in Bentonville. The Bentonville City Council on Tuesday approved a $257,795 donation for park improvements. “We really like it because it’s near from our home,” said Anika Hingerl, an au pair to twins, adding that she takes them to the Gilmore Park almost every day. “They have swings, they have slides, and it’s just to get the energy out of the kids.” Visit nwaonline.com/photos for today's photo gallery...(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)


BENTONVILLE -- Gilmore Park will be upgraded and enlarged with monetary and land donations.

The City Council unanimously approved the donations at its meeting Nov. 14.

Steuart and Kelly Walton donated $257,795 for park improvements. 8th and Melissa LLC donated land to add to the park.

Gilmore Park is at the southeast corner of Southwest Fifth and Southwest D streets. The one-acre neighborhood park, adjacent to the Downtown Trail, has playground equipment and other amenities. The park name is derived from the name of the subdivision when originally established in 1926, according to the city.

About two years ago, park officials began discussing improving Gilmore Park, said Wade Tomlinson, parks planner, in a letter to Mayor Stephanie Orman and the City Council. The park opened in 2010.

"We met with representatives from Runway and the Walton Family Foundation, and they wanted to help," Tomlinson wrote.

Runway Group is a holding company headquartered in Bentonville backed by Steuart and Tom Walton.

The city budgeted $65,000 in 2022 to replace the playground's fall-safe material, the cushion under a playground, Tomlinson said.

Park officials held a public input meeting to talk to neighbors about what type of improvement they desired to see.

"We heard more and more there are young children in the area and the need for a playground for younger kids and some level of barrier separating the playground with the common area and adjacent roads," Tomlinson said.

The $257,795 donation will be used for new playground equipment, safety fencing and sidewalk and landscaping improvements.

"We will utilize this donation, plus the $65,000 we currently have budgeted, to start this project as soon as possible -- possibly by the end of the year," Tomlinson said.

The playground will need to be closed during the work, but a time frame has not been set, he said.

The city, under the leadership of then-mayor Bob McCaslin and the City Council, purchased the overgrown lot where Gilmore Park is now in 2008 for about $50,000, Councilman Chris Sooter said.

The neighborhood was home to many old homes in need of repair. The park was developed with money from the 2007 bond issue, the city's first bond issue. About $200,000 was initially available to develop the park, Sooter said.

"The neighborhood and community were involved in the planning of the park, and ultimately a small pavilion, playground and some sidewalks and landscaping were developed," Sooter said. "The park spurred redevelopment around it, and the southwest side of downtown was the first section to begin seeing major building and redevelopment."

Tallulah and Oliver Sanders, 6-year-old twins, were playing at the park Thursday with their au pair Anika Hingerl, who said she takes the children to the park almost every day.

"We really like it because it's near our home," Hingerl said. "They have swings. They have slides. And it's just to get the energy out of the kids."

After the success of Gilmore Park, the city acquired land to develop Austin-Baggett Park on the southeast side of downtown and Enfield Park on the northeast side of downtown, Sooter said.

"It was the goal to have walkable, neighborhood parks on all sides of downtown," Sooter said. "The northwest side already had Park Springs Park serving its residents. The neighborhood parks have all been very successful and have spurred development and enhanced the quality of life around them."

The land donated to the city was owned by 8th and Melissa LLC and shared a common property line with the park, Tomlinson said in a second letter to Orman and the City Council. The owner contacted the Parks and Recreation Department asking if it had interest in the land becoming part of the park, he said.

The land donation is about half an acre to the east of the park, said David Wright, Parks and Recreation director.

"The park has been a great asset," Wright said.

The city Parks and Recreation Advisory Board approved the parks plan, including the park-land addition. Runway Group is providing necessary drainage and site improvement and new sidewalks on the adjacent lot, Tomlinson said.

Jariek Schellner of Bella Vista was in the park with his two children. Schellner said they were at Pedaler's Pub and walked to the park on Nov. 16. They have been coming to the park for years and sometimes meet friends there.

The park is in a great location and has enjoyable things for children, Schellner said. The park is smaller than some, but he said he enjoys it because it's not as crowded as other parks.

Ryan Agnew was throwing a football in the park with his 9-year-old son Nov. 16. Agnew said he loves the park's open space, providing an area for children to run and enjoy themselves.

He said he was glad to hear the park will be expanded. They live in nearby apartments, and Agnew said it's good for children to have a place so close to have fun.

Parks such as Gilmore are intended to serve people less than a quarter-mile from their homes, Tomlinson said.

"They are intended to be walked to," he said. "They provide basic outdoor recreation facilities. Pocket parks often have limited, if any, parking. They are typically without restrooms, but they often provide open areas, playgrounds, small pavilions with few tables and benches, and they typically have a few shade tree plantings."

The park renovations should be completed by spring 2024, Tomlinson said.

  photo  Oliver Sanders, 6, rides down a slide Thursday at Gilmore Park in Bentonville. The City Council on Tuesday approved a $257,795 donation for park improvements. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for todays photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 
  
  photo  Tallulah (left) and Oliver Sanders (right), 6-year-old twins, hang on a jungle gym while their au pair Anika Hingerl watches Thursday at Gilmore Park in Bentonville. The City Council on Tuesday approved a $257,795 donation for park improvements. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for todays photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 


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