John Blair crouches over the handlebars of his mountain bike, expertly negotiating the sharp twists and turns of a narrow dirt trail in the new, 134-acre Sunderbruch Park in southwest Davenport.
Across town, members of the Southeast Little League play out what is expected to be their last season in Duck Creek Park before moving north of 53rd Street to new baseball fields in the developing 126-acre Prairie Heights Park.
Blair and the Little Leaguers are two direct beneficiaries of what has been a banner year for Davenport parks.
The opening of Sunderbruch and the building of baseball diamonds at Prairie Heights — coupled with smaller projects such as the widening of the last
eight-foot section of the heavily traveled Duck Creek Bike Path — represent an investment that hasn’t been equaled in the city for more than 45 years.
“You’d have to go back to 1961 when the city did Emeis (Park) to find this level of park development” in one year, said Dan Sherman, the city parks director. “This has been a big year.”
Budget-wise, $1.1 million has been spent at Sunderbruch, he said. That includes building a paved entrance road and parking lot, fencing and 3,500 linear feet of paved bike trail with a substantial bridge over Black Hawk Creek. The trail will be a link in the eventual connection of Duck Creek Bike Path with the Mississippi Riverfront Trail.
“This was an important section to get done,” Sherman said.
About $800,000 will be spent at Prairie Heights for the three baseball fields, plus a parking lot, restrooms, a concession stand, fence, an irrigation system and lights, amenities that Sherman hopes will be ready for the Little League’s 2008 season.
The move will delight the Little Leaguers, and it will return Duck Creek Park to a more pastoral use, something homeowners in that area have been hoping for the past several years because Little League games generate noise as well as traffic.
Finally, $176,000 will be spent on widening the Duck Creek Bike Path from Eastern Avenue to the Duck Creek Park entrance. That project includes expanding the parking lot at Eastern by 27 spaces and re-routing the path so it does not cut through the lot. As is, bicyclists travel through the lot, creating the dangerous possibility of car-bike collisions. Rerouting “solves a safety issue,” Sherman said.
All of the activity comes on the heels of last fall’s opening of the $1 million, much-publicized skatepark within Centennial Park on the riverfront.
Sunderbruch is a half-woods, half-open natural area with no development save for the entrance road, parking lot and a system of trails, making it a haven for bikers, hikers, equestrians (the only Davenport park where they can ride) and nature lovers.
No baseball fields, picnic shelters or playgrounds are planned at this time, and motorized vehicles such as ATVs are prohibited.
“It’s so different from anything else we have,” Sherman said of the park. “It’s an unusual, rural piece of land that no one ever sees anymore. It’s a treasure, and it would be nice to preserve it like this.”
One recent weekday morning, a large raccoon was spotted splashing across the creek. Four or five deer were seen bounding through the woods, a flashy indigo bunting (a type of migratory bird) flitted from tree to tree and numerous monarch butterflies fluttered about.
The park currently has three types of trails:
— The section of paved path that eventually will link Duck Creek Bike Path with the Mississippi Riverfront Trail.
— City-mowed areas around the perimeter of the park and elsewhere that are suited for horses and hikers.
— Mountain bike trails that were built by a group called Friends of Off-Road Cycling, or FORC.
FORC began building the trails nearly two years ago in anticipation of this year’s park opening, said John Blair, the group’s
president. Volunteers have logged about 3,000 hours building 5½ miles of trail with hopes of getting 2½ more miles in place by the end of the year, he said.
The trails are different from the leisurely paved paths found elsewhere in the city because they are narrow, made of dirt and feature steep climbs and ravines, twists and turns and several “jumps,” or obstacles, that one can ride over or jump.
“It’s pretty aggressive riding,” Blair said of the fast-growing sport of mountain biking.
Horseback riders have worked on the trails they use, too, removing branches felled by storms, said Sharon Hobart, a member of the Silver Spurs and All-Breeds clubs.
And they’ve had help from FORC members, she said.
“We’re working together as a team,” she said. “We really appreciate them.”
The city has owned the Sunderbruch property since the 1970s, but there was no development until recently. Originally called Southwest Park, its name was changed by the City Council at the request of 1st Ward Alderman Ron Van Fossen to note the contributions of Dr. John “Jack” Sunderbruch, a longtime Davenport physician and community leader who died in March 2006 at age 95.
Prairie Heights Park
The three Little League baseball fields and their accompanying amenities will occupy 11 of the 126 acres in Prairie Heights Park, west of Eastern Avenue and north of 53rd Street.
Moving the Southeast Little League out of its current location at Duck Creek will please homeowners who have complained about congestion and noise over the years, and it will delight the Little Leaguers, too.
“It will be a huge improvement,” said Richard Sullivan, president of the league that includes about 20 teams.
“Duck Creek is not a sports park,” he said.
The new location will give the league an additional diamond, plus lots of other improvements, including nearby restrooms, irrigation, lights (allowing the league to play later in the evening), more parking, handicapped accessibility (especially important for visiting grandparents) and a concession stand.
The latter is particularly welcome because with no concessions at Duck Creek, Southeast loses out on potential revenue that helps keep costs down for the kids, he said.
“Everything we like to see (in a playing field) will be provided” at the new site, he added. “It is very exciting to us and will be a huge step up.”
Also within the 126-acre Prairie Heights Park is 20 acres set aside for a potential school site, plus areas for tennis courts and a playground and picnic area near the baseball fields, Sherman said.
Directly north of the park is a site for a branch library, and beyond that is the 69-acre housing subdivision that will be developed in the “new urbanism” style by Regency Homes of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The subdivision is planned for about 220 single-family homes and 70 townhomes and villas.
Alma Gaul can be contacted at (563) 383-2324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT’S NEW ELSEWHERE IN THE Q-C?
Bettendorf: A four-acre dog park is being built west of the quarry at Crow Creek Park, 4800 Devils Glen Road. It will be a fenced area where dogs can run without a leash.
Rock Island: A climbing rock for kids has been added to Webber Park, 30th Street and 7th Avenue. This is a faux stone structure with hand and toeholds that invites kids to experience climbing in a safe environment.