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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Hannah Cicioni of Rogers and Jude Azzain, 4, of Tulsa, Okla. (from left) skip rocks, Friday, July 5, 2019 at the Thaden field house dock across from Lake Bentonville Park in Bentonville. Lake Bentonville Park is undergoing a major renovation and will be closed July 8 through spring 2020

BENTONVILLE -- Lake Bentonville Park closes for nearly a year today for a major renovation.

"Spring 2020 is a very vague timeline, and I know it," said David Wright, Bentonville Parks and Recreation director. He said the park at 210 S.W. I St. could open as early as January or as late as June depending on the weather.

A $1.85 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation will pay for the project, said Luis Gonzalez, the foundation's spokesman.

"We honor our roots by helping build opportunity in our home region because these are the communities where Sam and Helen Walton first found opportunity," he said.

The project is being completed in conjunction with the 55-acre Osage Park preservation project to the north of Lake Bentonville Park being spearheaded by the foundation.

The recreational areas of Lake Bentonville and Osage parks flow together seamlessly, so people often don't realize they're leaving one and entering another, Wright said. The parks have different owners. Bentonville Parks and Recreation Fund owns the land north of Lake Bentonville, while the city owns about 7 acres between Southwest I Street and Bentonville Municipal Airport's runway.

Bentonville Parks and Recreation Fund has P.O. 1860 listed as its address. It's the same address as Walton Enterprises.

The acres north of Lake Bentonville Park will remain private property but will be open to the public, similar to Compton Gardens, the land owned by the Peel House Foundation, as previously reported.

10-YEAR PLAN

The Lake Bentonville Park project is part of the Parks and Recreation's 10-year plan, adopted by the city in 2017, Wright said.

"The Play Bentonville Plan really pointed out how 58% of our residents live west of Walton Boulevard, but at the time, only 8% of recreation space was in that part of our community," Wright said.

The park renovation will complement new amenities at Osage Park, which he said would include open green space, an amphitheater for public art and an archery range.

Lake Bentonville Park work includes adding an asphalt parking lot, pavilion with boardwalks and fishing piers and making the park fully accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Wright said. Additional modifications include building a destination playground, creating access for Arkansas Game and Fish to stock the lake with fish and removing the dam to expand the 5-acre lake to double or triple its size, he said.

Removing the dam will increase the recreational value of the property, he said.

"The body of water that is there will spill over all the way from where it is now to the bridge that is on I Street that has a very complex beaver dam system," Wright said. "We're going to utilize the natural beaver dams that have been built over the years to dam the water."

Many surrounding pieces of property drain into Lake Bentonville and use an overflow system in which the water comes out of the lake and runs down a concrete culvert, he said. Plans are to remove the culvert and outflow system.

The water will then pass through the beaver dams, which will act as a natural filtration system, he said, resulting in water among the cleanest within the watershed.

The new lake will rise and shrink like a lung and will take all the water that lands in the Illinois River watershed in the community and bring it through the property, Wright said.

"We're filtering out the oil and the gasoline from the roads," Wright said. "It's a real sustainable project that I hope our citizens are really proud of."

BEAVERS AND GEESE

Beavers are already filtering the water through the dams, he said. The animals could abandon the dams and the lake would dry up.

"We understand that may happen, but we've always had that risk," he said. "That wetland that's out there has been there for years."

Beavers aren't the only animals posing development challenges, Wright said. The lake is also attractive to geese, which have proven problematic for Bentonville Municipal Airport to the park's south.

Geese spend about four months each spring at and around the airport, officials have said. The airport's board has looked at various ideas to resolve the matter over several years because of the collision risk geese pose to aircraft.

"I can tell you that we have legitimate concerns that the growth of the park area and lake may result in increasing the hazards associated with the bird situation at Bentonville Municipal Airport," Chuck Chadwick, airport manager, said in an email.

He said the city is working with Ecological Design Group to create a wildlife management plan incorporating the airport.

Putting a vegetative fringe around the perimeter of the lake will help prevent geese from entering the lake, Martin Smith said, explaining the birds prefer to go in and out of bodies of water from a manicured edge.

"That's a challenge, because people that fish don't like to fish over a vegetative fringe," Smith said.

Park designers will use soft-based plant material that won't easily catch on lures and will create fishing piers outside of the runway protection zones to ensure the best possible fishing experience for residents, he said.

Lake Bentonville Park will be closed throughout construction, but fishing will still be be accessible from the dock of Thaden Field House, Wright said.

He cautioned residents to remain clear of the park until work is complete.

Metro on 07/08/2019

Print Headline: Yearlong work to shutter park at Bentonville

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