03 February 2012

Tribal Theme Popular for Fontenelle Park Future

Emphasizing a tribal heritage associated with its namesake was a popular theme discussed at a recent meeting on the future of Fontenelle Park.

The park in north Omaha was named after Logan Fontenelle, one of the last great chiefs of the Omaha Tribe.

An enthusiast for establishing natural features was the host for 16 people on the evening of January 31st, at a building along Radial Highway. It was an open discussion of ideas and interests for the park, once its use as a golf course is ended. There were no CSO! staff present.

Attendees represented several perspectives, including:

¶ promoting natural land features;
¶ increasing value of the park for wild birds;
¶ green landscape management;
¶ urban gardening;
¶ including features suitable for bees;
¶ utilizing sustainable practices; and
¶ Benson community groups.

About half of the people present had visited Fontenelle Park within the past year.

After a lively discussion of the park and its spaces - with options drawn upon a map of the site - each attendee was asked to express what they would most like to see occur. A summarized list was:

  1. reuse lodgepole pine as timber to construct park features
  2. provide opportunities for special experiences
  3. repurpose the current golf headquarters as a building for urban gardening/education
  4. oppose any changes to the topography of the park land
  5. promote a tribal heritage concept for the park
  6. include history and context of use of native flora
  7. take care of the park naturally
  8. provide suitable walking trails
  9. have an urban prairie, as already conveyed by an effort at Benson Park, near the lagoon
  10. use native species of plants
  11. have activities for neighbors
  12. convey a theme of sustainablity
  13. include fruit and nut trees and aspects of urban agriculture
  14. have a rain-garden

Also prevalent among the discussion was a poignant need to revitalize the trees along the boulevard. Fontenelle Boulevard is part of a city-wide system of roadways established decades ago. New trees would reinforce this long-time ideal for the thoroughfares which were created to provide a theme of connectivity between major parks in east Omaha.

There are several options to connect the park-space to legacy of the Omaha Tribe and Chief Fontenelle, according to scholarly studies from long ago.

Especially prominent could be flora that could occur. Several species of ceremonial or cultural significance could be grown within the park. Specific prominent species, based upon a review of historic documents, include:

¶ cattail: cultural significance
¶ corn: a cultivated crop which had an important place in the yearly schedule of the tribe
¶ cottonwood tree: an important feature of the Sacred Pole
¶ willow: used to create homes
¶ bur oak: a food source
¶ columbine: ceremonial uses
¶ wild plum: multiple instances of significance to the Omaha Tribe
¶ dogwood: wood used to make arrows
¶ cone flower: a medicinal plant
¶ goldenrod: important in the floral calendar of the tribe; its blooms would indicate when certain important activities should occur
¶ blazing star: important in tribal lore.

This concept can be continued to include birds. Providing suitable habitats would attract those species prominent to the Omaha's, including woodpeckers, the house wren and kingbird, as well as others recognized from among the lore written about the tribe.

Other aspects of a similar theme could include: 1) a contemplation point on the east hillside, where a round area under a pergola would mimic an earthhouse used by the native American tribe, and include five benches made with lodgepole pine wood to represent the historic tribal gentes of the Omaha; the overlook would have a view of the lagoon, representing water, one of the four key elements for the Omaha tribe; 2) a hilltop prairie on the east side with a variety of native grasses and forbs, where wind would be prevalent; 3) a sun garden nearby on the hill featuring a sundial to represent the sun, another of the four key elements for the Omaha; 4) totem woods where rather than clearing away the dying pines, leave stumps of some length and have celebrations to carve and mark them to represent the community. This was a wonderful suggestion shared at the meeting, because of its open and unhindered discussion.

Notable features prominently discussed included a prominent creekway - Omaha Creek was a historic feature at this space, according to the original land survey maps of long ago - from the southern edge of the park into the lagoon, a hilltop prairie, an increase in the extent of trees, a "great field" suitable for recreational activities, an area with nut or other berry-producing trees, a continuation of the sycamore tree line on the east side, and an amphitheater, where current landforms would be suitable.

There was unanimous consent that the chain-link fence around the park should be removed.

If there were to be urban greenhouse facilities, it was suggested that they be located at the northwest corner of the park, and include pine wood in their construction, and that they be built to conform with the hillside terrain.

A hike-bike trail would be included, but no alignment was drawn as this feature could be readily incorporated among the other features. There was strong opposition to having a disc-golf course.

There was an obvious constrict on the discussion ... that the lagoon would be increased in size to provide greater storage for stormwater. This is a seeming requisite established for the Omaha CSO! Project. The water area proposed should include a prominent extent of cattail marsh.

Further meetings on the future of the park will be taking place in the coming days.

On February 8th, the Benson-Ames Alliance will have a mid-day meeting at the pavilion. On the 16th, the Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property will hosts its third community meeting at the park pavilion to further discuss the the park's future.

This urban park has great potential for a better future. Time will decide its ultimate fate.