October 15, 2012

France Park begins improvements

Park staff are making changes to draw larger crowds for the park’s 2013 spring season

by Amie Sites

— Kevin and Connie McCarthy spent Thursday afternoon taking their two grandchildren, Kilynn and Brayden Tabler, around France Park.

Although Connie has been coming to France Park for more than 40 years, she has been coming to the area with Kevin for the past eight years. In those years, both of them said they have seen the park through some rough patches.

“I’m really excited about the changes being made to the park,” Connie said. “We love it here.” Kevin said he enjoys that there is so much to do.

“We usually just visit for the day, but we’re thinking about overnight camping before the end of the season,” Kevin said. “Our grandkids can swim in the quarry, fish in the pond, play on the playground equipment, take a hike on some trails and then by the end it’s nap time for them.”

France Park Superintendent Lucas Beach and other staff members are making some major changes within the park so that visitors, like the McCarthys, can enjoy the area. The putt-putt course has been ripped up and is getting a three-color scheme and concrete to make it more presentable, Beach said. For the first time in the park, a trail has been widened so that vehicles can drive along it. At the top of the cliffs above the beach, staff and volunteers are clearing brush to create an upper-beach area where people can lay out in the summer months. Also, two miles of new single-track mountain bike trails have been added.

Although the trails have always been marked, Beach said they will be putting metal signs along the trails so that they are harder to tear down.

“Everything we are doing within the park is a permanent improvement,” Beach said. “We want to be able to showcase aspects of the park that are under-utilized.”

Beach said that he is trying to make the water a focal point. By clearing out trees to create the upper-beach area, and by adding volleyball courts, he thinks that will happen. In the spring, Beach plans to showcase new events, and some surprises, that should increase the crowd. In summer and spring months, he plans to host bluegrass, blues and country bands at the park and he also plans to host a county-wide garage sale, where people can come buy sites and have several garage sales in the area at once.

“There will be some sweet surprises coming in the spring,” he said. “We want people in the community to support France Park, have fun and be proud of the area.”

Beach has been superintendent of the park for three months and he said it’s been busy.

Beach, a 2005 graduate of Pioneer Junior-Senior High School, took over the job in July after county officials eliminated the park’s board and fired Sandy Heckard, who had been the superintendent for eight years.

Kevin Parmeter, security officer, has been working at the park for 10 years. Parmeter, who has worked with four different superintendents, said that a lot of good changes are being made and he thinks they will help the park.

“It’s been a trying season,” Parmeter said. “Lucas started some new ideas and I’m excited about next year.”

Parmeter said morale has been raised because campers can volunteer and receive discounted prices from camping, which is something implemented recently.According to Parmeter, people camp year-round to camp at the 250 sites, even when the water gets shut off November 1.

Monthly camping for Cass County residents is $240 and non-county residents pay $275 for a stay of 30 consecutive days. Beach said that the staff members collaborated and talked about what could be changed. He said he also went around within the public to see what the community wanted to see.

“The park has had negative connotations with it and we’re working to fix that,” Beach said. “These changes are really pertinent for the park’s survival, especially these days.”