By Michaela Marx Wheatley
The Moore American
MOORE — A park that, less than four months ago, resembled a battlefield rather than a playground for families has been voted America’s favorite park.
The Coca-Cola Company awarded a $100,000 grant as part of its America Is Your Park campaign to help the Veterans Memorial Park in Moore rebuild after the May 20 tornado.
“We’re excited,” said Todd Jenson, Parks and Recreation director for the City of Moore. “The support and love our town received from all over the country is overwhelming. We’re just grateful to Moore, Oklahoma, really the world.”
Over the summer people logged their park activity as thousands of people responded to the cola company’s call to get active on behalf of their favorite parks.
Veterans Memorial Park emerged as “America’s Favorite Park” with more than 400,000 votes and 16,000 hours of activity logged. The park will receive a $100,000 recreation grant from the Coca-Cola and the money will be used to rebuild a playground, Jenson said.
Veterans Memorial Park catapulted to the top of the leaderboard when other communities rallied to its support. In a show of solidarity and compassion, previous grant winners and supporters whose parks were also damaged by natural disasters, came together to campaign for Veterans Memorial Park. These communities helped organize online voting drives and engaged celebrities to encourage voting for Veterans Memorial Park. Supporters encouraged fun outdoor activity and posted daily Facebook voting reminders to help the park win the top spot.
“This year in particular was remarkable because communities across the country came together to support a special park in need — Veterans Memorial Park,” said Stuart Kronauge, general manager for Sparkling Beverages, Coca-Cola USA. “Our goal was to inspire people across the country to rediscover the joy of being active and to use that activity to benefit parks. Through this effort, a town devastated by a tornado will begin rebuilding one of their beloved landmarks.”
This process is now under way.
“We’re anxious to get work started out there,” Jenson said.
However, it will be several months until playground structures will rise. Site work, bidding for a company to build the playground and planning are still ahead. Jenson estimates that this will be a three-to-four-month process.
In the meantime, Moore park employees are working on preparing public sites hit by the storm and making them welcoming for the community again.
“We’re starting to fix up the parks now,” Jenson said.
The grant will pay for a playground. But this is only the beginning. Jenson said an estimated $600,000 in damages was done to the park by the tornado. Besides the playground, picnic shelters as well as walking trails were devastated.
Jenson said the city would pay with insurance money and other city funds for fully cleaning and rebuilding the park.
Veterans Memorial Park is a gem for Moore residents, Jenson said.
“People just loved that park,” Jenson said. “The city had put in a lot of money the last six or seven years. It was dedicated to our veterans. When it was destroyed, it tugged on the community’s heart strings.”
The city had invested into the park to create a special place to honor veterans and create spaces for families and people to spend time together, he added. A Memorial Plaza recognizes veterans from the five branches of service and a Soldiers’ Memorial honors war heroes.