Members of the Van Buren Lions Club have presented the City of Van Buren with a $5,000 check to be used to install interpretation panels at the new Veterans Park in historic downtown.

Mayor Bob Freeman accepted the check on Wednesday at the club’s weekly meeting at Western Sizzlin in Van Buren.

Interpretive panels are an imaginative combination of text and visuals to tell a story about an object or place.

“The increasing interest in our heritage and natural history has made the need to identify and explain places of interest an important part of tourism and public information,” Freeman said.

He said the five interpretation panels will be placed throughout the park, which is located in the 800 block of Main Street and adjacent to the railroad train depot.

Several of the interpretation panels have been placed in the downtown area as well as Fairview Cemetery through the efforts of Sheila Bell, according to Freeman.

He said Williams/Crawford and Associates Inc. has donated its time to design and layout the panels, which will be installed after the dedication of the park.

City Planner Joe Hurst said he is encouraged to see these community partnerships.

“Our government improves as we engage the public and listen to ideas,” Hurst said. “Relationships and trust are built through citizen engagement, and Freedom Park is a great example of this. Freedom Park is the result of the public attending meetings, speaking out, and taking ownership. The monetary donations help, but the partnerships are invaluable.”

Freeman said he envisions one of the panels will be on the west end of the Freedom Park. It will face downtown and include a visual of Main Street when it was dirt.

Another might highlight the city’s railroad system and its transportation of homegrown produce and its ties to the current farmers market which will be located at the Veterans Park, the mayor said.

One panel is expected to include the four freedoms as outlined in a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his State of the Union address on Jan. 6, 1941, Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Hurst said the panels will add tremendously to the park.

“Freedom Park is a special place and it was built to express our gratitude to veterans and all those who serve and protect us,” Hurst said. “The panels will explain Mayor Freeman’s idea to create a 4 Freedoms theme, inspired by President Roosevelt’s 4 Freedom speech.”

He said the pavilions represent the freedom from want, the stage represents the freedom of speech, the Veterans Memorial Plaza (still to be built) represents the freedom from fear, and the church to the east represents the freedom of religion.

Other panels will also explain the gold star in the interactive fountain and how it represents Gold Star Mothers who have lost children in combat.

“We want the park to be a celebration of our freedoms while also serving as a place to show respect to those who have sacrificed their lives to serve and protect us,” Hurst said.

Plans call for the existing park to be redesigned as Veterans Memorial Plaza to be used as a space of reflection. The new portion of the park, Freedom Park, will serve as the entertainment and recreational venue.

Freedom Park will include decorative crosswalks, security fencing, expanded parking areas, vendor parking, farmers market, drinking fountain, restroom facility, outdoor pavilion, children’s play area and a Gold Star water feature.

A memorial with flags and monuments to honor the five branches of the military, as well as police, fire and first responders, will be at the entrance to the park.

Before the recent rains, Freedom Park was on schedule to be completed this month with an official opening planned closer to Memorial Day.

Freedom Park will include a four-sided street clock donated by the GFWC Women’s League of Van Buren. The four-dial LED lighted street clock is 15.6-feet tall and includes cast aluminum post, saddle and head as well as aluminum bezels.

The Women’s League raised $25,453 over a six-month period to purchase the clock which is currently being constructed and scheduled to be shipped in mid-April.

A Battle Cross monument donated to the city by Chase Haynes, an Eagle Scout with Troop 45 in Van Buren, will be included in the memorial. Haynes’s statue, cast of pure American bronze, of a helmet, identification tags, inverted rifle and combat boots is meant to represent a fallen soldier.