Plenty of praise came to the Linn County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday for its plan to spend $1.735 million to add 70 acres to the 230-acre Morgan Creek Park on the western border of Cedar Rapids.
Fourteen people made a point of attending the supervisor’s morning meeting to speak in support of the park expansion, bringing Supervisor Lu Barron, the board chairwoman, nearly to tears.
Barron, who is retiring this year after 18 years in office, said the strong support for the park expansion proposal stood in stark contrast to negative reaction that the supervisors had endured in years past when they proposed park and trail improvements.
"I can hardly believe … all these positive comments for expanding park land," she said.
Driving the supervisors’ land-purchase and park-expansion proposal, in part, is their wish to acquire land next to the existing park and along the alignment for the coming $200-million Highway 100 extension project so commercial development that the highway will attract doesn’t crowd the existing park and harm its allure and character.
Supervisor Brent Oleson said he supported the highway project and the development that will come with it, but he said both will be better if they are balanced with a larger park.
Oleson said he had just spent time with his children at Rocky Mountain National Park, and he said he was struck by the vision that Teddy Roosevelt and others had a century ago to set aside some land for parks.
"This is our time now," Oleson said of the Morgan Creek Park expansion. He said he can’t wait for 30 years from now when people in Linn County say, "Those people who did that were really thinking."
Among the 14 speakers at Wednesday’s meeting, Tom Peffer, of 2483 Grande Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, told the supervisors that he doubted that any public official would ever regret adding to a park once his or her public career had come to end.
Lisa Paulos, of 201 Foote St. SW in Cedar Rapids, told the supervisors that she tends to oppose proposals by government to come up with new ways to spend tax dollars. But she said the expansion of Morgan Creek Park was different.
"This is something I endorse," Paulos said. "I encourage you to spend my tax dollars the way I would spend them."
Mike Wyrick, a member of the Linn County Conservation Board and chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter, said, "Green space has value, and we can forget that." He called the Morgan Creek Park expansion a "once-in-lifetime opportunity." Parks contribute to physical and mental health, he said.
Rob Johnson, of 416 Jacolyn Dr. NW, said the purchase price for the Morgan Creek Park expansion amounted to about $1 a year for seven years for each resident of Linn County.
"In my mind, that’s a really good deal," Johnson said.
Martin Smith, of 3219 Carlisle St. NE in Cedar Rapids, said the park expansion will help protect the park from the noise of Highway 100 and the lights from the commercial development that will go with it while allowing Linn County to expand the arboretum in the existing park. Iowa sets aside as little land for parks as any state, so adding 70 acres to the Morgan Creek Park is not "excessive," he said.
The county will buy the land from H.A.M Investment Inc., the president of which is Patricia Harstad, 3525 Midway Rd., Toddville.
The supervisors have said that revenue from the county’s local-option sales tax likely will help pay for the purchase.
Unincorporated Linn County extended its local-option sales tax in 2012 through June 30, 2024, with 25 percent of the revenue beginning on July 1 designated for conservation projects.The supervisors will vote later on the purchase. In the near-term, the purchased land will remain farm land, about two acres of which the county will sell to the Iowa Department of Transportation so it can relocate 80th Street to the east of E Avenue as part of the Highway 100 project.