The City of Early gathered the community on Monday afternoon to dedicate the new-look McDonald Park, the former McDonald Field where the Early Longhorns played their home football games for decades.
The new park includes a lighted running track, a sand volleyball court, an Early-themed mural and park benches, with further upgrades on the way. Early city administrator Tony Aaron said the park has come a long way since the city purchased it from Early ISD.
“When we first started looking at this project, the field had pretty much been abandoned for about seven years,” he told the assembled crowd. “Chain link fence around it. It was just an unused space.
“The way that we have taken on this project — we could go borrow several million dollars and in six or eight months have an impressive facility. But I think when we started planning this project, the personal approach and getting the community involved — like is happening with the benches and the landscaping and the trees — is really what makes this place memorable.”
The benches Aaron mentioned were donated by members of the community, mostly in memory of deceased loved ones who called Early home. After Aaron’s introductory speech, he invited the crowd to walk around the track to each new bench and allowed donors to say a few words about their bench and the person it honors.
Members of the Early parks department walked ahead of the crowd and pulled plastic covers off each bench. The McDonald Park benches are donated in the name of Chris Dutton; Dewit and Bobby Allen; Jim Byars and Danny Dutton; Darrel Gosnell; Clint Connelly; Mike Roberts; Sgt. Karl Keesee; Jerry Faltys; Jeff Milhollon; L.W. and Dolly Richmond; Angie Zoltak; and the Early High School classes of 1979 through 1983.
Early High School’s Teen Leadership Team also talked about the Early-themed mural they helped create near the park entrance. Matthew Tarigan, Inayat Kang, Tara Glasscock and Dominique Smith worked with a professional artist to create the mural which features depictions of Early High School, the Pecan Bayou and other local icons.
Aaron made sure to thank several groups who assisted with the park. He recognized the T.R. Havins Unit, the Early Parks and Recreation Department and the Early Beautification Commission for assisting with planning, labor and maintenance for the park.
Aaron also recognized Gerry and Lena Day of Day Stone for providing landscaping rocks for the park and George and Michael Sikes for donating trees.
After the ceremony Aaron said the dedication was really the “starting point” for McDonald Park. “We’ve worked on this for a long time, and we’ve got a long way to go,” Aaron said. “But now that the park’s open and the community is using it, we wanted to go ahead and dedicate it to show people what we’re doing and plan for what the next step is.”
He said the park’s next big project will be the installation of a concrete basketball court next to the sand volleyball court on the west side of the park. There are plans for a covered main entrance to the park between the courts and lighting for both courts so they can be used at night.
The city is still accepting feedback and suggestions regarding the fate of the locker room facilities at the north end of the park. The decades-old structure housed Longhorns football teams on game day until the construction of EISD’s new football stadium.
After the dedication Early gathered again at the intersection of Garmon Dr. and Early Blvd. for the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.