After years of talking, planning, wrangling, dreaming and dissension, the transformation of the Coeur d'Alene waterfront from a mundane parking lot into a classy people's playground is now a pinch-me-it's-true reality.
McEuen Park, officially opened two months ago, is the most dramatic change ever to hit the city of Coeur d'Alene.
McEuen Park is huge. Like a fabulous, multifaceted emerald setting, the 20-acre project wraps around the town jewel, Tubbs Hill, from the west side of the waterfront to Sanders Beach on the east.
Together, Tubbs Hill and McEuen Park add up to 140 acres of public space. That's one-sixth the size of New York City's Central Park with its millions of people.
The park will continue to be a work in progress as trees grow tall, shrubs fatten, grass grows greener and the additional pieces of public art that have been commissioned are installed.
At either side of the Fourth Street pedestrian entrance, you'll see two white concrete pillars shaped like giant tuning forks. Connected by a halo of electric LED lights, the installation forms a welcoming Rainbow Arch.
The arch inspires an endless stream of comments. A group of teenage boys were clustered at the base of the arch, and one voice was heard shouting, "Hey, they're signaling to aliens!" Another time, a wag was overheard to comment: "It will be great when it's finished." Yet another: "It's interesting. We need more interesting art."
I confess to being a member of the selection committee that picked the Rainbow Arch out of 90-some entries. My words to the skeptical: Just wait until you've seen the arch lit in the dark of night. It's spectacular.
The new park is loaded with up-to-date features. The entire park is wheelchair-friendly. At the same time, the multiple ramps attract skateboarders like moths to bright lights. To dampen their enthusiasm, designers built in yards and yards of raised seating blocks, each set in alternative directions every few feet. This pattern creates an attractive design, establishes endless seating, yet provides no elevated thoroughfares for high-flying boarders.
It's a hefty hike from one end of the park to the other, so Brazilian hardwood benches are strategically placed along the paths for visitors to pause, rest and reflect.
Another innovation, solar trash compactors, are spaced throughout the park. Some rest on containers 10 feet down into the soil, with telephones that will call the maintenance office when they are filled up, leaving a "dump me" message.
The jaw-dropping features are at the Splash Pad, where imitation beavers, bears, even a Stonehenge replica, spout water at the touch of a child's palm. The good ship Kiwanis dumps buckets of water on the heads of eager kids of all ages every few minutes. A three-armed tree sprinkles, while a painted hoop sprays.
The Splash Pad draws hundreds of kids every day. In fact, the Splash Pad has attracted much more love and attention than expected, and uses much more water than engineers anticipated. The engineers continue to make adjustments in the timing of the spouts and the participation of the spouting animals.
Underground pipes that run the length of the park carry the clean tap water from the sprinkling creatures of the Splash Pad all the way to a 65,000-gallon storage tank underneath a new structure called the Harbor House at the edge of the lake. Here, storm and irrigation water join the clean water of the playful Splash Pad to be recycled through the park's intricate irrigation system.
I've only touched on some of the innovative features of McEuen Park as it begins what we hope is a long and beloved history.
What are the morals to this tale of the renovation of Coeur d'Alene's waterfront?
1) We've learned that vision-making can work. Dream big, then work hard to make it come true.
2) It's been proven that leadership matters. Former Mayor Sandi Bloem and longtime Parks Director Doug Eastwood are two of many examples of elected and staff officials who have led the way. City Council members were crucial, too.
3) Years and years of community involvement in planning and dreaming can make a big difference in the outcome.
4) We are reminded that the Lake City Development Corporation, the city's urban redevelopment agency, was an essential player in the success of McEuen Park. The project could not have been carried out without LCDC funds. (Beware of politicians who would undercut and destroy urban renewal efforts.)
5) Blessings should rain down on the workers who endured the snow, cold and mud while sculpting the park; blessings, too, for the patient businesses disrupted by the frenetic activity.
6) We should never forget the importance of keeping public land in public use. The value of the commons, set aside for all to enjoy, is still very much alive here in our city by the lake. ♦