by Joycelyne Fadojutimi

The day started out stormy, with rain and high winds, but it turned out to be just a momentary Baptism. Kim Droege’s prayers were answered as the clouds departed and were replaced by a blue, sun-washed sky. It was great weather to open and introduce The Green. Americans have traditionally loved the color green so much we even use it on our paper money, but also because we love pristine nature. The Green is a new outdoor facility dedicated to giving the city a verdent oasis where Longview residents can relax, recover, reflect and meditate in the midst of natural beauty. Representing Keep Longview Beautiful, Executive Director Kim Droege emceed the park’s opening as the Longview Homestead Anchor Club read the Pledge of Allegiance, and Dennis Samford prayed the invocation. The Green has indeed been a community-wide effort.

“We’ve asked three community leaders to speak on behalf of The Green because not only do they each represent an entity that has given money on behalf of this project, but much, much more importantly, these folks have championed Keep Longview Beautiful over many years and supported The Green since the very beginning five long years ago,” said Droege. “They have tolerated me, which many of you know is a huge undertaking. We have great respect for these individuals and feel deeply fortunate they are speaking today.”

Gregg County Commissioner Ronnie McKinney, Longview Economic Development Council (LEDCO) Director John Martin, and Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara all spoke at the assembly.

During the years 2001, 2005 and 2010 multiple steering committees noted how this heavily traveled stretch – the entrance into Longview from Hwy 31, needed development. In June 2013, Keep Longview Beautiful (KLB) received the lusted after Governor’s Community Achievement Award, which entailed a $270,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT.) This led to, one month later, KLB requesting that the city council authorize the use of a specific 9.41-acre tract of land to be developed into what is now The Green. KLB and TxDoT teamed and immediately got busy with ROW work. There is now an unmistakable entrance sign leading into the park. Two green ribbon projects saw the planting of 92 trees to form a delightful green canopy.

Over a three-year period KLB fund-raised an additional $1.2 million. This funding was made possible by an application for a 50-50 matching grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Local Outdoor Spaces Grant Program. KLB itself funded preparation for the application via MHS. The total application was $800,000. The $400,000 from TPWD under the direction of Anna Eberhardt matched the value of the land that was used, in-kind services and the essential cash. In August 2015, KLB received notification the application with TPWD had been approved. September 2015 saw the issuance of construction documents.

“The new space that we stand in today is called The Green because that’s what it’s about–green, wildlife, flora, fauna, culture through art, outdoor education, the environment, nature and a community’s progressive growth–OUR community of Longview, Texas,” said Droege. “We want to thank the hundreds of people who helped bring this wonderful gift to East Texas.”

A litany of persons and organizations helped make The Green possible, and Droege was careful to honor them all, citing MHS Planning and Design, Laura Hill and her Community Services Team, Scott Caron and the Parks Department, Michael Shirley and Development Services, LEDCO, Gregg County for $200,000 it contributed, and the city of Longview for its $100,000 donation. She also recognized community partners Joyce Crane, Joe Bob and Lou Anne Joyce for their work in initiating the giving process years ago. She even found time to praise the directors of the Great Texas Balloon Race for providing a “fantastical” steel balloon structure painted by local artist Carmen Gadt.

Unnamed donors financed the ART. From the heART initiative’s funding of another local artist, Charles Arnold, who produced delightful wire structures that now grace The Green. Droege was particular to thank these anonymous supporters. She even thought to point to the assistance from the three local school districts for the work of 32 faculty members and all three superintendents for their work with KLB in helping design The Green’s layout. Their work will be its own reward as local students partake of The Green. Lastly, Droege credited her own board of directors for their work in every aspect of this monumental project’s creation.

“If I’ve forgotten to thank anyone please forgive me,” she concluded. “I take that credit.”

The Green features a half-mile walking trail, Nature Play Area, Art Niche, Creek Overlook, Outdoor Education Area, Music Garden, Building Grove, Free Little Library, Bioswale and the beautiful pavilion that stretched over the crowd at the grand opening. This urban wonderland is intended to incite families to lay aside their electronic devices and return to a nature that is as beautiful as ever. KLB is currently organizing a fund drive to finance planting a Wildflower Meadow in The Green.

R&K Distributors President and CEO and Longview native John Martin also spoke at the assembly, describing how The Green’s intended purpose of bringing Longview together in an urban Eden is “a dream come true.” He credits The Green conception, financing, development and construction to how local citizens came together to support this massive civic improvement campaign. He sees nothing but good things in store as a result of this accomplishment. Some pointed out the merciful weather as another blessing.

“It is a beautiful day to open it, too,” said Sheriff Maxey Cerliano.

Every speaker gushed over the beauty and potential of this newly created civic paradise.

“This is a gem for the city, for families, for students and their schools, for children, grandchildren and many generations to come,” said KLB board member and Texas Bank & Trust employee Lori Osborne. “Texas Bank & Trust is a financial supporter of The Green.”

Ishihara pointed to how The Green is an all-Longview operation, both now and in its developmental stages.

“It is not taxpayer money. This is a citizen-driven project,” she said. “The Green is an amazing jewel to the entryway.”

As the assembly broke up, many who attended, took time to plant the first seeds in the Wildflowers Meadow.