More than 100 South Salt Creek neighbors flocked to Cooper Park on Saturday to celebrate its belated 150th birthday.
The oldest park in Lincoln, located just south of the Haymarket, turned 151 this year. After the South Salt Creek Community Organization reunited last fall, members thought a celebration of the milestone would be a popular event, said secretary Stephanie Scheffler. They joined together with the Everett neighborhood, Neighborworks Lincoln and South of Downtown Lincoln to host a community celebration.
“We decided this would be a good opportunity to bring community members together and to meet all of the neighborhood,” Scheffler said. “We also wanted people to know what (resources) are out there for them.”
The event offered a free potluck, live music, crafts and community booths. Children were able to get their faces painted, play volleyball or even munch on fresh watermelon by the park’s playground. Lincoln fire and police departments both socialized with visitors and allowed families to tour a fire engine.
The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia is across the street from Cooper Park and had a booth at the celebration. The society has always been a part of the community because Germans from Russia founded the area surrounding the park, said librarian Sara Roberts.
“We’re trying to get a broader awareness of the AHSGR and get all ages interested in the history,” Roberts said.
Cooper Park had not always been so popular — because of its age, the area has gone through periods of disrepair and renovations. A community event like Saturday’s celebration was important to revitalize the park, especially while the Haymarket continues to push into the neighborhood, Scheffler said.
South of Downtown Lincoln and other community stakeholders have been planning to improve the landscapes and facilities since 2016, according to public plans.
“This park is very significant to our neighborhood; it's the only green space around here,” said South of Downtown Lincoln representative Isabel Salas.
Some renovations have already been completed, such as the replacement to LED street lights around the park, Councilman Carl Eskridge said.
Other improvements include fixing lighting inside the park by replacing bulbs and trimming trees, restoring the picnic shelter, renovating the playground and replacing the baseball field with a soccer field because of high demand.
“This was the first park in Lincoln, built when the city was built,” Eskridge said. “So there is a need to upgrade it, improve it, to better the community.”
Fundraising efforts for the improvements are still in progress, but Eskridge thinks the updates will be completed by 2020.
"We're hoping this might become an annual event," Scheffler said. "We were pretty unsure of what the turnout was going to be, but it's actually great — the neighborhood was very receptive."