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A McEuen Makeover 

It’s time to turn one of Coeur d’Alene’s best parcels into one of its best parks.

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It's high time we quit arguing and start transforming downtown Coeur d’Alene’s McEuen Park.

The 20-acre park — wedged between downtown, the Coeur d’Alene Resort and the foot of Tubbs Hill — currently comprises a sprawling parking lot, a public boat launch and a few ball fields. But it could get a mega-makeover under a proposal put forward by a 21-person steering committee and a design team assembled by longtime Coeur d’Alene parks director Doug Eastwood.

The plan virtually explodes with options for new activities. Do you and your family like tennis? Two new courts are in the draft. Have you ever heard of pickle ball? It’s tennis for the older set. How about bocce ball? It’s in the plan.

Family picnics, large or small, would fit into the park pavilion. Nearby would be a greatly expanded children’s play area. Two full-size basketball courts are on the drawing board. So are a fenced-in dog park and a new skate park. The waterfront would be transformed.

The park proposal has been the buzz around town, in the coffee shops and in letters to the editor since the design was launched to an overflow crowd at North Idaho College on Jan. 6. (A second presentation is scheduled for Feb. 3 at Woodland Middle School.)

I find the proposal and the process very exciting. And the question is a serious one. What varied uses does the Coeur d’Alene community want for this priceless stretch of land — arguably the most valuable real estate in the city’s public domain?

Right now, the view of the Coeur d’Alene waterfront from McEuen Park is interrupted by a sea of parked cars in the public lot. The plan removes the cars from that prime location and puts them out of sight.

The parking area now gobbles one-quarter of that publicly owned space. Freeing up those five acres of asphalt will create more lawn space for kite-flying, Frisbee toss, concerts, pickup games of softball and football.

Two weeks ago, I trudged through snow and ice around the perimeter of McEuen Field. Seeing it in winter made one thing obvious: Fences crisscrossing the empty field make it unusable for anything other than summer ball games. It’s hard, but it’s time to say goodbye to American Legion baseball’s long tradition of games under the lights on hot summer nights here.

It’s hard, but it’s time to say goodbye to American Legion baseball’s long tradition of games under the lights on hot summer nights here.

The mayor and council made it clear in an ordinance some years ago that no activity currently in use on McEuen will be removed until a replacement venue has been found that is equal to the existing location or better. That applies especially to the ball games and to the downtown boat launch. A search is on for another location in the north end of the lake where the space is right and the water is deep enough to permit boats to launch year-round.

Our community has dreamed before of ways to remake McEuen Field and to replace the city parking lot. Sometime around 1958, a ragtag bunch of stalwarts (my husband among them) formed something they deliberately misnamed the Lakeshore Development Committee, in order to oppose a plan that would’ve plunked a shopping mall in the middle of that very special property.

After Coeur d’Alene voters nixed the shopping mall proposal, the Lakeshore Development gang planted a modest sapling to discourage any further attempts to extend Fourth Street through the park and toward the lake. Today that sapling, renamed the Freedom Tree during the Vietnam War, measures 75 feet tall, and like Rudoph’s nose, it’s shiny and bright at Christmas time.

According to the new park plan, the Freedom Tree has to go.

And that’s OK. The tree has served Coeur d’Alene well as a defense against the encroachment of streets and buildings. The yellow ribbons that decorated its branches helped bring home missing-in-action Vietnam hero Fred MacMurray. Surely, there is an appropriate spot somewhere else on city property.

I agree with the Tubbs Hill Foundation, the official protector of the amazing 134 acres of wilderness within Coeur d’Alene city limits, when it cautions against tampering with Tubbs Hill’s natural state. Let’s leave Tubbs alone.

Several plans have been drawn up in recent years. But this time is different, partly because the Lake City Development Corporation wants to partner in fixing McEuen Park’s needed improvements. And partly because the steering committee was asked to develop a vision for the future. They were asked to dream and they dreamed big.

This proposal deserves the public’s constructive suggestions, opinions and hallelujahs. The status quo should go.

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