Two Organizations Team Up For Second Time On Smokey Bear Park Developement

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The Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs will work with the Rotary Clubs of Gainesville Foundation to reignite a history of park development.

The groups plan to restore a rotary wheel located in Smokey Bear Park, which, nearly 50 years ago, both organizations helped create at 2500 NE 15th St. near the University of Florida’s eastside campus.

Linda Demetropoulos, nature and cultural manager for GPRCA, said the project is part of an ongoing renovation at the park, which started in the summer.

A project coordinator from GPRCA approached Susan Spain, president of RCGF, after discovering the club participated in the original development of the park in 1963.

Spain said RCGF is the oldest club in Florida and is excited to be a part of the latest renovation that will help mark its history of involvement in Gainesville.

“When you look at it and start analyzing, it really tells you about the history of Gainesville,” she said.

John Weber, operations supervisor with GPRCA, said an artist specialized in tile work will design the wheel with mosaic tile painted in the rotary colors: blue and gold.

The colors have to be specific to the rotary shades because the organization is strict about representing their logo, Spain said.

“They don’t want you to change it in any way,” she said.

Weber helps oversee the current renovation of Smokey Bear Park, originally a 4.5 acre piece of land given to the county by the Florida Forest Service. After the FFS asked the county 50 years ago if they wanted to use the land, the city and rotary got together to start building the park.

The club dedicated $3,000, and the city helped design the park, Demetropoulos said. Over the course of two years, both departments went back and forth in the process of development, leaving behind a small swing set, some trees, and the rotary wheel.

The RCGF will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in six years by trying to put its history together, and Spain said the information about its involvement with the park came at the right time.

As part of the renovation over the summer, the city purchased the land from FFS in July, expanding the facility to include a dog park, Weber said. It also cut down some trees to open space for a parking lot.

The renovation of the park, Weber said, will be completed by November. It will include a new pavilion, playground and swing sets, as well as the new wheel located at the entrance with newly planted shrubbery.

The wheel remains the only amenity from the original 1963 design.

“This is a very hidden gem,” Weber said.

About Maleeha Babar

Maleeha is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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