Reprinted with permission from Lake Travis View

Page 14A Lake Travis View, Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friends of Park pay tribute to Rowland for his role securing site


There was a lot of finger-pointing last weekend when the people who made City Park a reality got together to celebrate "A Dozen Years of Service." When asked about their contribution to the Lakeway landmark, each would invariably point to another and say, 'Well it couldn't have happened without them."

Peg Hein, the co-founder and first chair of Friends of the Park, was the main offender, giving full credit for the park to then-mayor Cole Roland, political activist for the park Donna Schmidt, then-city manager Sam Huser, and the man who found the park site, George Blume.

It was Peg and her husband, Marvin, who started friends of the park to turn the land from the overgrown cedar forest into the oasis it is today.

"The reason we started Friends of the Park is because there was one man, half-time, to mow the grass and clean the restrooms," Hein said.

She downplays her role, though, to thank the people who got it started in the first place. All four founders gave speeches, save for Sam Huser who was spoken for by his widow, Carolyn.

"I wish Sam could be here today, he would love this. Maybe he's looking down at us today, maybe not. Maybe he's too busy," she said to several laughs from the dozens of people gathered in the pavilion bearing her late husband's name.

Blume spoke to the attendees on finding the lot and the early speed bumps. "I said 'We should shoot for a waterfront park.' One (Parks and Recreation) committee member never came back after that meeting because they thought we were crazy," he said.

The city ended up purchasing the 64 acres of waterfront property for $375,000. The cheap price on the property, initially listed for an already low $700,000, resulted from a somewhat sneaky move of city council that at the time, had seemed to backfire.

"My theory is at that time, the council was under heavy pressure from half the population to buy land for the park and under pressure from the other half not to buy the land," said former mayor Cole Roland, of the presumably too-low bid. "That way, we'd have a story for everybody."

When the bid was approved, it was time for new Texan Donna Schmidt to step in and lead the cause, going door to door to ask families to approve the plan. At the time, it met heavy opposition from residents who didn't want to see their taxes go up and who believed the park may become a haven for unsavory characters.

"After a short time, we realized that there was this beautiful lake but there was no way to access it," she said. "We started the campaign by word of mouth, and I have to say, Barack Obama had nothing on us."

The vote initially only passed by 19 votes but a second vote widened that gap to more than 500. Over the years, the leadership of Friends of the Parks have changed hands but there has been a group of continually dedicated people adding features like gardens and the dog park.

Marvin Hein closed the round of speeches with a listing of figures that. on a conservative look, estimated the Friends of the Park had spent a total of 15,948 hours working on the park. According to him, the state rates volunteer hours as worth $13.65 an hour.

"So that's a total of $217,690 or $18,640 per year," he said. "I think Lakeway is getting a hell of a bargain."

George Blume, Donna Schmidt, Carolyn Huser, Peg Hein, Alan Williams (click to enlarge) Group Photo
All of the major players responsible for making the park what it is today in its earliest stages gathered for a picture. From left to right: Site-finder George Blume, Political Activist Donna Schmidt, Carolyn Huser (also representing then city-manager Sam Huser), First Friends of the Park Commissioner Peg Hein and Second Friends of the Park Commissioner Alan Williams. (Not Pictured, Cole Roland, then-mayor of Lakeway).

Cole Rowland (click to enlarge) Cole Rowland
Former Mayor Cole Roland speaks on his contributions to and memories of the early days of City Park.

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