Freedom Park in Van Buren will be an inspiration for the future growth of the city, said city heads at the park’s ribbon cutting and grand opening on Friday.
Joe Hurst, Van Buren planning director, called the opening of the park “a momentous occasion, not only because we have a new park with all these great amenities, but it’s because of what the park represents.”
“Not only does it honor our veterans, but it continues our efforts to revitalize downtown,” Hurst said. “Downtown is Van Buren.”
Investing in parks, making the downtown walkable, and installing walking and biking trails help improve the quality of life in Van Buren, which in turn helps retain companies, jobs and quality employees in the city, Hurst said.
“Now we have a new venue where we can enjoy all the freedoms the veterans have secured for us,” Hurst said.
Tyler Wood, who sits on both the Van Buren City Council and the city’s parks and recreation commission, said parks are necessary for a successful community.
Wood called Freedom Park “the cornerstone” of the city’s master parks and trails plan, and said it will be inspiration for future city projects.
“Today we are establishing a legacy - a legacy of inspiration, a legacy of honor and a legacy of freedom,” Wood said.
Other speakers during the opening event Friday named the park as an inspiration for honoring and remembering area veterans and soldiers.
Quartermaster Mathew Hicks with Robert Jack VFW Post 1322 and Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman spoke on the symbolism of the park meant to represent the four freedoms outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 addresses to Congress.
Roosevelt’s four freedoms are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Freeman noted that the parks amphitheater was meant to represent freedom of speech, the nearby churches to represent freedom to worship, the daily use of the park to represent freedom from fear, and the farmer’s market pavilion, in which the ribbon cutting took place, to represent freedom from want.
Freeman grew emotional as he pointed out the gold star in the center of the park’s splash pad, and held up a flag with a blue star in the center of a white field with a red border.
“The star in the splash pad comes from a flag such as this,” Freeman said. “This is a flag that moms would fly and continue to fly to show that they have a child serving in the military. My wife and I flew this flag when our son was serving in Afghanistan.”
A gold star represents a family member that has died during service.
Freeman’s family has a history of military service, including himself, his father and his son.
“It’s important to me personally that the things we talk about today can be passed on to future generations,” Freeman said.
Hicks encouraged the several hundred people attending the ribbon cutting on Friday to visit other veterans memorials, and continue to learn and teach future generations about soldiers’ service and sacrifice.
Hicks also encouraged the crowd to let the park be a place of joy, enrichment and reflection.
“Use this park to heal your very soul,” Hicks said.
Pastor Wes Hilliard with Heritage Methodist Church, who provided the invocation and benediction, prayed that the park would “be a place of peace and thanksgiving.”
Also during the event, Hurst thanked those who helped make the park a reality, including Freeman, his assistant Jennifer Froud, members of the city council and the parks commission, and area civic organizations for their support and donations.
River Valley Marine Corps League provided the honor detail, played the bugle call “Taps” and gave a multi-gun salute. Butterfield Trail Middle School trumpet quartet performed the national anthem.
Van Buren’s new police chief, Jamie Hammond, was sworn in by District Judge Chuck Baker.