Officials look for expanded River Park to become a top destination in 2014

Published on Wednesday, 8 January 2014 01:13 - Written by Chad Wilson Athens Daily Review, Texas (MCT)

ATHENS — Considered a hidden jewel as a regional park in Henderson County, the city of Chandler is working with several organizations to make River Park a top destination in 2014.

Located on the Neches River just inside the Henderson and Smith County line, the park was first established in 1971.

Chandler City Administrator John Taylor said the park was established as a joint agreement between Henderson County and the Upper Neches River Authority.

It originally covered 3.17 acres, and included picnic tables and asphalt boat ramp.

Chandler’s city limits were extended out to the Neches River — the Henderson County line — in 2006, and the city started looking at ways to improve the park.

“In an effort to better control crime and dumping in the River Park area, and to have increased maintenance of the park, the city council voted to take the necessary steps to assume control over the park,” Taylor said.

In January 2007, Henderson County transferred its lease with the Upper Neches River Authority for the park to the city. At that time, the city began regular maintenance, improved the boat ramp and cleared out much of the underbrush.

In July 2012, the city extended the River Park area through a long-term lease for 12.5 additional acres on the north side of Texas Highway 31.

This lease was done in partnership with the Woods and Waters Foundation. At that time, a 100-space parking lot was added in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Highway Department and Henderson County.

River Park is now just under 16 acres on the north and south sides of Highway 31.

The city is in the process of creating a nature trail system which will be about 1.5 miles along the Neches River.

“This river ecosystem will offer unique views of wildlife and nature,” Taylor said.

The city of Chandler has received a grant from the TPWD to connect the north and south sides of River Park with a concrete walk under Highway 31.

In addition, the grant will fund an improved boat ramp and parking lot on the south side with improved access off Highway 31.

“River Park is a hidden jewel and has great potential to be a popular regional destination park supporting nature tourism,” Taylor said. “Improving this park fits into one of the city of Chandler’s comprehensive plan goals of providing a diversity of parks and recreation opportunities for all age groups. The park provides some of the best river-access fishing in the region, as well as bird watching.”

The walking trails are ready at the park, while a grand opening for all the improvements is scheduled for May 17 in conjunction with a city event.

“On May 17, the city will host the first annual RiverFest with a Mud Run, music, Crawfish Boil, and fishing contest,” Taylor said. “At a later date, phase three of the River Park project will include the installation of restrooms.”

As River Park continues to improve, it gives Chandler a nice place to welcome visitors on three of the city’s main entrances.

“The City of Chandler is fortunate to have a unique park at the south, east and west gateways into the city,” Taylor said. “The city would like to see a future park on the north side along 315. The future land use plan shows a new park in this area. However, funding and a development time frame have not been identified for this park.”

Along Highway 31, Chandler has River Park on the east end of the city to welcome visitors and Arlie McCain Park on the west end. McCain Park will open as a historical park, soon equipped with a museum honoring the city’s history.

On the south side of Chandler, along Farm-to-Market Road 315, is the city’s largest park, Winchester Park. It too is undergoing several improvements expected to be complete by Summer 2014.