It's been more than a year since renovations started on a hidden gem of a park on the corner of 18th and E streets.

Hazel Abel Park renovations are mostly done, so the park gates opened on Halloween to give Lincolnites a sneak peek.

Kids wearing costumes played on the new stainless steel slides on Sunday afternoon, and the adults seemed to love the updated layout and play equipment. The cookies and cider were a hit, too.

The $268,000 renovation project started in June 2009 as an effort to update park equipment, sidewalks and attributes.

As neighbors requested, the tall hedges surrounding the park were removed and the Victorian theme remains -- maybe more so than before.

To make the park safer, parents wanted the hedges cut down so they could see inside the park more easily. They also requested that the playground equipment move from the back corner of the park to the front corner.

Residents of the central Lincoln neighborhood have been itching to hang out in the cozy park surrounded by a now visible and restored fence, said Mark Canney, the park's planner.

"People keep asking me, ‘When is it going to open? When is it going to open?'" Canney said. "I'm glad people are excited about the reopening of Hazel Abel."

The park will remain open while Lincoln Parks and Recreation completes the finishing touches. The development team plans to install a water fountain, put in trash bins, more benches and plants.

The grand opening ceremony will be held in the spring, said Lynn Johnson, director of Lincoln Parks and Recreation.

Johnson and Canney have worked together to update the park's historic elements and added lot of green space to make the park look and feel larger.

Alesia Spangler said the park was great before the renovations, and now it's even more beautiful. Her favorite renovation is the restored fountain that sits in the middle of park.

The late Alice Abel picked out the black cast iron fountain herself on a trip to New York.

She bought the land for the park in the 1960s and dedicated it to her mother, Hazel Abel, who was Nebraska's first elected woman senator in 1954.

For the renovations, the Abel family contributed $168,000. The city of Lincoln pitched in $100,000.

"We wanted to make the park open and usable to everyone," Canney said on Sunday. "It's great to see people of all ages and races here on Halloween."

The playground equipment is now up to current safety standards and it sits atop a checkered mat that is handicap accessible.

"We have never been here before, but my daughter has been saying, ‘When is my park going to be ready?' She loved it before she even entered the park," Jeff Campbell said Sunday.

Campbell's daughter, Gianna, 3, dressed as a water fairy for Sunday's Halloween grand opening. The family lives close by.

"It seems like a historic place," Julia Campbell said. "It's not your regular play place with just a park and a bench -- it's great."

Reach Alissa Skelton at 402-473-2682 or askelton@journalstar.com.