By MIKE WILLIAMS
Draper Community Park has been enjoyed by many people since the playground, basketball court and shelter were constructed in the recent past. But park’s official opening came Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony sponsored by the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a beautiful day to be in Draper,” remarked Chamber President Bill Cunningham to open the ceremony, which largely focused on commending the efforts of those who did the heavy lifting to take the facility from a dream to a reality.
Cunningham briefly recalled the history of the park property – noting the tornado of 2011 damaged the old elementary school that had been located for decades on the site.
About $350,000 in insurance money from the tornado damage became seed money for what sits on the site today.
That money was augmented by thousands of dollars raised over the past several years through fundraising activities and events conducted by the Draper Community Park Board and a slew of volunteers.
Pulaski County, the county’s Economic Development Authority and the Parks and Rec Department also played a significant role in making the park happen.
Cunningham said the property was re-purposed in 2017 with the opening first of the walking trail and basketball court. Since then, he said, there had been several significant additions.
Today, the basketball court, walking trail, ballfield and playground have been joined by a new pavilion with concrete floor and picnic tables. Plans are for a bathroom facility to be built on the open end of the pavilion. Inside the pavilion a stage will be built forming an amphitheater style facility.
Assistant County Administrator Anthony Akers said the park project had been a “true community effort.”
He added, “we appreciate your patience,” alluding to the long wait for materials and available workers needed to construct the pavilion and delays caused by COVID.
Draper Supervisor Dirk Compton noted he joined the Board of Supervisors after the park project was well underway, taking over the Draper seat on the board from Dean Pratt.
“It has been a journey,” Compton said.
“I told [Massie Supervisor] Mike Mooney we might be doing pickleball courts out here next,” Compton remarked. “Because whatever we do out here (in Draper) it seems to be a hit.”
He mentioned the basketball courts and playground that have been heavily used by young people since their installation.
He noted Debbie Gardner at the Draper Mercantile is planning an ice cream shop and other things there, with a New River Conservancy office and tourism kiosk also in the works.
Carole Smith, leader of the park board, agreed it “has been a long journey, but a good journey.”
Smith praised Akers and County Administrator Jonathan Sweet along with county staff who did so much to make the park a reality.
“I appreciate everyone who’s eaten a taco or a hamburger or hot fudge cake during fundraisers,” she said, adding the park board and volunteers had been the best group to work with.
“I remember when we first started to do this and I was asked, ‘Do you really think we can do this in this community?’ And my response was, ‘Absolutely, and it’s not going to be just this community, but the Pulaski County community,” Smith said.
She said the first donation to the park fundraising effort came from the late Judge William Thomas. She said the $5,000 donation at that time was to be kept anonymous.
“He was a great supporter of Pulaski County,” Smith noted.
Smith offered thanks to all the contributors to the park project, including Tractor Supply who donated the trees that were planted around the pavilion in just the last few days.
“We are truly blessed to live in God’s country and to work with such wonderful people,” Smith said.
Donations are still being accepted for electrical work and other things needed to finish the park project. Checks can be made out to the Draper Community Park and mailed to Carol Smith at 4793 Clark’s Ferry Road, Draper, 24324.
For those needing more information, call 540-616-5217.