TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A longtime partnership between the city of Tyler and Children Are a Gift Foundation is entering a fresh chapter.
Tyler city leaders this week agreed to help support a second-phase development plan for The Children's Park, a move that comes ahead of Saturday's 10th Annual Walk in the Park that starts at 10:30 a.m. to help families cope with the loss of a child.
"This park has been extremely popular and hugely successful," Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Rollings said.@
The memorial park at the corner of Dobbs Street and Broadway Avenue started as a way for a grief-stricken mother to honor the memory of her unborn son.
Jennifer Carson and her husband were grieving the loss of their stillborn son, Braden, when they heard about the Elena's Children's Park in Dallas that pays tribute to a 3-year-old killed in a traffic collision.
After much encouragement from family and friends, Ms. Carson approached the city about starting a similar project in Tyler.
The 2.2-acre memory garden-style park for children kicked off in 2002 and opened in 2004, as a joint venture between the Children Are a Gift Foundation and the city of Tyler, records show.
"The foundation raised money for the park's construction, and the city of Tyler has provided maintenance and upkeep," Ms. Rollings said.
Ms. Carson, also president of the foundation, said the park was designed to accommodate small numbers, but it has seen a steady increase in visitors over the years.
"We can have anywhere between 250 and 300 people visiting at one time," she said earlier. "It's wonderful."
Those numbers also mean it's time to expand, officials said.
In Phase II, foundation officials hope to expand the park to the south, transforming part of the unused space into a prayer and meditation garden.
Mark Spencer, MHS Planning & Design, is the designer, records show.
A series of improvements are planned, including adding an expanded walkway, parking and landscaping with plans also to create an indoor office center.
Big-ticket items in the project include the purchase and remodeling of a nearby 1940s-era home that can be leased out for special gatherings and proceeds given to the city to help cover the costs of upkeep.
Cost estimates for those improvements total $636,250, and city leaders agreed Wednesday to chip in a 20 percent match, to be paid over the next five years.
The city's match amounts to $25,400 per year for a total of $127,050, records show.
"We've raised over half," Ms. Carson said of the project amount. "We started over three years ago, and it's been challenging to raise the money — we're hoping to finish fundraising in the spring."
Mayor Barbara Bass said the park's beauty and popularity seems to rival that of the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden.
"It was a dream of Miss Carson's after a disappointing life event," the mayor said, saying many view the park today as an important destination for recollection and reflection.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend the annual Walk in the Park Saturday, a sharp increase from previous years, organizers said.
City officials seemed pleased with the expansion plans.
"We're looking forward to it," Councilman Mark Whatley said.
Ms. Carson expressed gratitude for the support.
"I hope we can set the example for other projects that come down the road," she said