The Rev. Thomas R. Clark, current priest in residence in Casey County, expressed appreciation to people who have supported the park over the past years.
"Gate Way Park has been such a great asset to our community for over 20 years," he said. "In the past year, there have been a lot of struggles, misunderstandings and growth pains. I'm pleased that all of this has come to a conclusion that hopefully all can live with. My dream is that this will become the community park it was meant to be from the beginning."
County Judge-Executive Ronald Wright said the county appreciates the generosity of the local church and the Archdiocese. "The park has been a valuable asset to Casey County," he said during the ceremony. "The park is for the people in the community."
Pittman donated land
Wright also thanked Iva Dean Pittman of Lexington who donated land to the Archdiocese for the park in 1981.
When Pittman donated the land for the park and also Sacred Heart Catholic Church at the corner of U.S. 127 and Ky. 70 in downtown Liberty, it was reported the 14 acres were valued at $100,000. Since that time, an old horse barn was renovated for offices, a community center was built, and picnic areas, and tennis, softball and basketball courts have been built with the assistance of thousands of hours of work by volunteers, state and federal grants and donations from private citizens.
County Surveyor Richard Montgomery said $250,000 is a conservative estimate for the property, if the land had to be purchased now and the buildings and equipment had to be replaced.
"This will make our dream come true," state Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) said of the newest venture for the park.
Gate Way Park board President Tyrone Smith echoed the sentiment.
"This park has done so much for so many people in Casey County," he said. "Hundreds of children have benefited from the Little League baseball and football teams at the park. And our local school system uses it for hundreds of school events every year. Everything from tennis practice to school sign-ups to play days to dances to assemblies; our local children reap the benefits and the park has never charged them for any of it."
Park has had big impact
Smith is grateful for the generous bequest of the Archdiocese and said that many people in the county may never realize just how much impact the park and the people who have worked for the park have had.
"Most people just accept that Gate Way Park has been there and will always be there," he said. "However they often forget that there have always been volunteers who had to make the money to build the buildings, pay for the utilities, repair and maintain the playground and picnic areas, fix the toilets, clean up the community center, keep the grounds mowed and clean and schedule all the events. It takes a lot of work and money to keep this park up and the Board of Directors is thankful that, by coming under the jurisdiction of the county administration, the park will finally be able to get the regular care and attention it deserves."
Liberty/Casey County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jodi Atwood knows better than most what this donation will mean to Casey County. Her office is located in the building where the park board has allowed the Chamber and the Tourist & Information Center to stay for free, including utilities.
Atwood sees the small day-to-day uses the locals have for the park.
"Of course, the park has been used for big things like the Casey County Fair, festivals, blood drives and a lot of things like that," she said. "However, it is also used every day by families. I see people coming here all the time for picnics, to walk by the river, to eat their lunch and to bring their children to play."
Atwood is also a member of the park board and knows the struggles the board has had in just paying the bills.
"Everyone on the board is really relieved and thankful that the Archdiocese has made this decision," she said. "We all believe this is going to be the best solution for the park and the citizens of Casey County."
Wright said the current park board will continue in place until after the documents are signed and filed at the courthouse. He expects to finalize the park deal in a couple of weeks.