Recently, the Eau Claire Waterways & Parks Commission rejected adopting the name Veterans Tribute Park. Many said they wanted to see more discussion between the Veterans Foundation and those involved with the community gardens.
“If we make a decision, we’re going to have a winner and a loser. With time and talking, we can have two winners,” commission Chairman Joshua Miller said before a 7-3 vote against the name recommendation.
The commission meeting started with a presentation by Jeff Pippenger, who described the criteria and process that was required for naming the park. Pippenger, the city’s community services director, advised the commission that the Veterans Foundation followed the required process in planning the park, naming the park and providing ample time for community input. The name was presented to the commission on March 27, followed by a 60-day public comment period that ended May 27.
Mark Beckfield, who represents the Veterans Foundation, confirmed that the prescribed process was followed and outlined the collaboration with the gardeners and neighborhood groups that added about $300,000 to the cost of the project. The improvements included a lighted parking lot, concrete paths (instead of blacktop), electricity, better water and modern bathrooms.
During the 60-day public comment period, 87 percent of respondents supported the name. This information was also presented to the commission the night of its “no” vote.
City staff, under the oversight and approval of the Waterways & Parks Commission, provided the path that led up to and included the naming of the park recommendation. The Veterans Foundation followed that path in naming the park Veterans Tribute Park, and then the same commission rejected the recommendation.
It was apparent at the June 26 meeting that at least one County Board supervisor, Brandon Buchanan, went out of his way to derail the naming process. At the meeting he stated that he had emailed commission members documents. Should county supervisors openly manipulate city commission votes? Especially after the public comment period is over?
The Veterans Foundation didn’t try to slip something past anyone; it followed the process in place. If some felt blindsided or bullied, they should look in the mirror first because they weren’t paying attention. Not to mention it’s the name that best fits the approved purpose for the park.
The presentation I saw clearly stated how everyone was going to win. The gardens would remain and become even better, there were going to be dramatic improvements to the park including electricity, better water, lit parking lots, a concrete trail and nice bathrooms.
Most importantly, the city of Eau Claire would have a designated, dignified home for the blood-red marble stones that memorialize 374 local veterans who gave their lives in service of their country and community.
Since the meeting there have been other suggestions made for artwork that portray peace. There were many educational aspects that should also be included in the park and there are many other ideas that would enhance the experience. Great, let’s include all of those things because it’s the community’s park. So why then is the name on the entrance so important?
The name is everything because it dignifies the purpose of the park. Veterans Tribute Park is the entrance to something very special and meaningful. Signage within the park is important too, whether it relates to the gardens, a tribute trail, art, historical information, educational information or something down the road.
We hope the community will come together and support the families of those 374 veterans who will be honored in a special way for generations to come. It’s time for the Eau Claire City Council to approve Veterans Tribute Park as soon as possible so that construction of something quite special can begin.
Rickman is publisher of the Leader- Telegram and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.