That meant families, and children, who needed more than just a home to live in, Smith said. They also needed someplace to play in.
“We started 10 years ago, going down to the county commissions, and asking for this,” Smith said, as he stood proudly in the new Northeast Regional Park, which celebrated its grand opening on Saturday.
The park, at 50901 U.S. 27 in Davenport, is located right next to the Bass Lake subdivision, and very close to the point where four counties – Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk – meet.
Smith, the pastor of the Community of Faith United Methodist Church and a member of the Four Corners Area Council, said he and other community advocates have been lobbying for years for a community park and recreation area, trying hard to convince one of the four counties that the region now had a lot of local children and young families who needed a place to play sports and enjoy outdoor activities.
Over the years, he said, “Our kids have played in parking lot and open fields,” Smith said. “But now they have one of the best fields in the region.”
The new park, which was paid for by Polk County, now has 83 acres to offer area residents on what was once known to locals as the Hayman Property – a vast, wide-open orange grove.
There are still plenty of acres that remain vacant and look like the Florida of yesteryear, but the property now also hosts a basketball court, a soccer field, and picnic tables under covered canopies. Phase one of this park’s development included Saturday’s opening of six multi-purpose lit fields, basketball, tennis and racquetball courts, a boat launch at Lake Davenport, and concession and restroom facilities.
“I love it,” Smith said. “We have long waited for something like this.”
A large crowd turned out for the opening day ceremony, where signs posted around the field read “Dirt Day Registration” to mark the opening day.
Polk County Commissioner Todd Danzler, who served as the master of ceremonies for the grand opening celebration, said this park would almost certainly prove to be a sports fan’s dream.
“If you’re a baseball fan, you know today is the day baseball leagues start their season,” Danzler said.
Likewise, the opening of the Northeast Regional Park means a new beginning for local residents, he added.
“This is a new season, a fresh day for us, and we want you to enjoy our opening day,” he said.
There were vendors outside, ready to sign up teens for the Four Corners Youth Football and Cheer Leading teams – and for too long, noted Sam Johnson, chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, it was obvious those teams badly needed more places for games and activities.
“It was very apparent that once I became a commissioner, we had to champion this cause,” Johnson said.
The property is being constructed in two phases as a public park and recreation area for the entire region – a region where there are plenty of residential subdivisions, but few if any public recreation fields.
The park is about 1.2 miles south of the Lake County line on U.S. 27, and Saturday’s ceremony marked the completion of the work on phase one of the development. At the moment, Polk County does not have the funding to begin phase two, which does not yet have a schedule or timeline.
Still, Johnson said the county would eventually get the second phase completed as well.
“It’s only half done, so we’ve still got a lot to do,” Johnson said. “But we do have a plan in place.”
Smith said in the meantime, phase one represents a great start, and hopefully area residents will quickly make good use of it.
“We pray for good sportsmanship, that those who gather here will play together as a team,” Smith said.
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