Posted 8/25/21

From Page 1 were released from captivity by Iran. Ground was broken on the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in 2005, and the facility was dedicated on May 26, 2006. Speeches, …

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From Page 1

were released from captivity by Iran. Ground was broken on the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in 2005, and the facility was dedicated on May 26, 2006.

Speeches, entertainment and a silent auction were held to honor the anniversary. A crowd of about 100 people were on hand for the toast following remarks from Freedom Park Executive Director Israel Haas and principles in the founding of the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center.

Haas welcomed the crowd, noting that it was his first inperson event since being hired just before the onset of the pandemic. Last year's event was held online only.

“This is my first time to actually see people in person here,” he said. “This is fantastic. I just started a little less than two years ago, and then we went right into all this craziness.”

Haas let the crowd know it was perfectly fine to be checking their phones while Freedom Park founders spoke. It's usually frowned upon, but the online silent auction was winding down, and raising funds was the main reason for the evening.

First on the speaker docket was former Mayor Mike Hunter, who was instrumental in making Freedom Park happen. Hunter said the park site has always held a place in the heart of the community.

“I have great memories of this place,” he said. “My mom was on the city council in the early 1980s. She used to come out here and clean the bathrooms. I used to ask her, 'Why are you doing that. That's not part of the job?' She said, 'I just think it's so important for us to feel proud of this place.' “What we have here is a joy. It's a real gem for the City of Prescott,” said Hunter. “It's a good thing, but it's a process. And for us to keep going, we have to do things to keep it going, and Israel is doing a great job.”

Carol Nelson's work was a driving force behind the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center. Grant Nelson said he and Carol had moved to Prescott, and she was appointed to the Great River Road Commission and worked to secure grant funding for the project. He said there was some dissent locally to local matching funds, but supporters worked through it.

Current city council member Maureen Otwell moved to Prescott in 2003 and was wrapping up her career managing museums. She was appointed the first director at Freedom Park. She heralded the leaders who got the facility up and running.

“I can't tell you how valuable those people are to this community. What they did was really unprecedented,” she said. “What they did here was incredible. I was so impressed when I saw the plans.

“I'm very happy to have been involved in the project. It was a great way to know the town, and the people who came to volunteer were terrific. I see some of them still here. I'm excited they're still involved in the park. It was my pleasure to serve the community in this way.”

Board member Jim Shiely still volunteers at the center also.

“We sometimes wonder how good a job we're doing. Sometimes we get down, and things don't go quite right. I used to look at the guest book, and I'm telling you, we get people from all over the world. I never saw one negative comment. Everything is, 'This is fantastic,' 'This is beautiful.' These are people that are coming from all over the world,” said Shiely.

Haas credited the dedication of the Board of Directors to making the park a success. Board members are chair Rick Allen, vice chair Jeff Ruehle, Donna Boatman, Tracy Larson, Charla Magee, Jason Mercord, Jeremy Raverty, Shiely, Deneen Strait, Ka Vang and Charlotte Vick.

“This is not just a board that rubber stamps things. They are an active working board that has been working very, very hard behind the scenes. I'm talking hundreds of hours of work over the last year as we have revised our mission, revised our vision,” said Haas. “We're thinking about our future as we're starting new programs.”

The bluff restoration project has been a principle success, as foliage has been managed and goats have been brought in to manage the bluffs.

“We're working on this one goat at a time,” said Haas.

He talked about some of the park initiatives, including spearheading the Coulee River Trails, an initiative that is starting in the next year to construct a trail from downtown to the park. From there, the system will lead to Prescott High School and culminate in a 14-mile trail system throughout the area.

The toast to Freedom Park wrapped up the night.

With champagne glass in hand, Haas said, “A toast to Freedom Park…Connecting people to life at The Confluence for generations to come.”

Photo by John McLoone