From the 1940s to the early 1970s, the property on which Winged Deer Park now sits was owned by the J. Norton Arney family and was used primarily as a horse farm.
When the city first invested $2.8 million to construct the park in 1991 after purchasing the property on Boone Lake, there was some uncertainty about whether the investment was wise.
“I think there was some thought that the Arney farm was too far out and wondering how people will get there and if it will really be utilized. Fast forward to today, and it’s like, ‘My goodness, are they ever going to stop utilizing it?’ ” Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis said.
Ellis said the park now attracts thousands of people every year who come to use the park’s batting cages, baseball fields, 18-hole disc golf course, playground, soccer fields, walking track and trails. The original Arney farmhouse was converted into the Parks and Recreation Admission office, which Ellis said includes offices, a gazebo and a meeting room that serves as an important hub for park officials.
The park’s lakefront section features two sand volleyball courts, picnic spaces, public boating access, a boardwalk, and an amphitheater that hosts concerts and other events throughout the year.
“By the time we open the park in the morning, they’re all already out here walking and jogging,” Ellis said. “It’s promoting health, wellness and exercise, and I think the city is really blessed to have the facilities here at Winged Deer Park.
“And when the lakeside comes back up, it just adds to the beauty of it.”
Most recently, Ellis said the park hosted the USA Fast Pitch Girls’ Class A 10-Under East National Championship in June. The competition hosted 23 teams from nine states.
The 18-hole disc golf course previously hosted the US Women’s Disc Golf Championship, which Ellis said will be held at Winged Deer again next year.
Recent expansions include mountain biking trails near Carroll Creek Road close to where the park’s disc golf course and walking/jogging trails are located. These trails, according to Ellis, are part of an “ongoing project.”
The city also recently purchased an additional 37 acres adjacent to the park for $1.4 million. Ellis said there are plans in the works to put four or five baseball and softball fields there.
“It’ll have the same amenities that the sports complex on this side of the park has,” he said. “Phase two of that plan is to go down on the immediate lakefront closest to Carroll Creek Road and layout four rectangular fields, which will primarily be used for soccer. You could play other sports there like lacrosse, football, rugby or whatever.
“Right now, we are awaiting some additional drawings and cost estimations, “ he continued. “From there, I think that will be part of next year’s budget proposal to start some of that.”
Looking back, Ellis said the park has come a long way.
“I think it’s been phenomenal,” Ellis said.