Building A Legacy – Gordon River Park

by Kelly Merritt

gordon-river-park-aerialUnobstructed walkways, swaths of grass along rivers and vast fields have been major components of landscape architecture going back centuries, made most famous in places like Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Central Park in New York, Boston’s Emerald Mile, The Biltmore Estate and Pinehurst, North Carolina. Now Naples has an opportunity to share in that grandeur with the Gordon River Park.

“This park will be a great asset of future generations for the city of Naples and it is one of those opportunities that come along once in a lifetime,” says Mayor John Sorey. “For me, my passion for this project is tied to the outdoors, being able to view the river and so residents of Naples can come to this park and walk, run or bike up to ten miles round trip to the Golden Gate Parkway without a single automobile interface.”

There will be no other park in Naples like the Gordon River Park. Places like Cambier and Fleishman Parks are amenity-based facilities with sporting components and playgrounds to meet the needs of planned play. The Gordon River Park will be a green space with very few structures and without brightly colored jungle gyms and similar structures.

Mayor John Sorrey and is wife Delores

Mayor John Sorrey and is wife Delores

“We are in good shape with our ball fields and those types of parks within the county, so it’s important for Naples to have an open park,” says Delores Sorey, “Prelude to a Park” gala chair for the event that supporters hope will help fund a large portion of the park. “We need more green space where exercise, play and using your imagination is still part of the culture – we have forgotten what it was like in the 40s and 50s when kids were outside playing, so maybe somehow this park can be part of bringing those ideas back.”

Mrs. Sorey’s point is aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which released a report that free and unstructured play is essential for helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones, critical to managing stress and becoming resilient.

In other destinations with river districts not unlike Naples (Tampa, Jacksonville and even the more bustling district of San Antonio, TX. spring to mind) a thriving green space along these districts is a draw for residents of all ages. Elite corporate and medical talent is also more apt to relocate to a locale with a dedicated green park or similar outdoor mecca. Tourists follow that trend, too.

“There isn’t any more acreage to build a park of this size, so this is the last chance for the Gordon River Park to ever exist – and the reason I feel so strongly about it. We cannot miss this window of opportunity,” says Mayor Sorey.

Renowned Naples Architect Matthew Kraugh is working on the plans with public input. He has helped make many Naples city projects come to fruition and is a staunch supporter of projects like the Gordon River Park.

“Prelude to a Park” Gala

canoe-gordon-river-parkThe March 15th gala fundraiser is under the stars for a reason – it will be a tentless event meant to both honor and illustrate the point of the open space. “Under the full moon it will be very interesting – we attended a similar event in Phoenix and it was very elegant,” says Mrs. Sorey. “Then on Sunday, we will have family day from 1-4pm with something for everyone in the family, with free admission and a stage featuring various children’s groups including Kidz Act, ballet, Macedonia Baptist church children’s choir and others.” Amy Saad, wife of council member Sam Saad is chairing the family day.

In addition to completing the basic elements for the park, funds raised would also pay for benches, light posts, trees and pavers.

“City Council has appropriated $2.5 million to provide the infrastructure and grading, but that won’t get us very far,” says Mayor Sorey. Soon organizers will proceed with the grading of the site for the “Prelude to a Park” gala slated for Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Mayor Sorey, like most successful businessmen is accustomed to the private sector, where tasks are completed quickly. It could take as long as ten years before the Gordon River Park is complete unless funding is raised to complete it sooner.

“Government runs very slowly, so we need people to come to public meetings and get excited about this for Naples and the generations who will be able to use this park in the future,” he says. Delores Sorey hopes people will also want to come to the gala and provide private financial support. Prospective donors are encouraged to consider naming opportunities at all financial levels from $100 brick pavers up to $2 million dollars to name the park. And in Naples, there is always the possibility that the park could be named for a major donor.

gordon-river-waterway“The initial $5.5 million came out of the property taxes so everyone has a vested interest in this park but to make it a true legacy we need significant investment naming opportunities,” she says. “There will be trees, gazebos and plaques with people’s names and people will be able to say, ‘This is my park because I have invested in it’.”

The restrooms at the park will also meet demand from the dog park, which has grown to be one of Naples’ busiest outdoor attractions. “Gordon River Park is a 100 year decision – when you look at what Fredrick Law Olmsted did with Central Park and so forth, all these years later, those parks are legendary,” says Mayor Sorey.

The Soreys and other supporters of the park envision walking, running and bike paths with very few structures, along the river on an elevation for exceptional views and some elevation changes where people could throw a football or Frisbee as well as a variety of understated exercise stations for people to stop and work out. A bridge will stretch across and connect either side of Gordon River.

One organization, the Naples Rowing Club, which launches from the point of the park as it’s called, is already excited about the park project, because it will only serve to enhance the area and preserve a place for such activities for decades to come.

For more information to donate or learn more about the park or gala event, visit www.NaplesGordonRiverPark. com or call 239.263.2673.

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