Meridian Metamorphosis: Spearheaded by dedicated volunteers, Chisholm Trail Roundup culminates transformation as Meridian Parks & Recreation pulls community together for “our town, our tomorrow”
MERIDIAN – After working five years to make a collective dream a reality, the Meridian Parks & Recreation will celebrate the culmination of its parks planning and development project with the Chisholm Trail Roundup held at Bosque Bottoms, Chisholm Trail Plaza, John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian Park and Lion’s Park on July 9.
Inviting all of Bosque County and surrounding counties to come to the county seat, the Chisholm Trail Roundup offers a day full of free activities as gates open at 9 a.m. and the event will be free to the public.
“We feel it’s important to put on a fun, great and quality event for our Bosque County community,” Meridian Parks & Recs President Don Hatley said. “We are extremely proud of our community and what it is becoming. Now we have the amphitheater and the Plaza, we are seeing a positive influence in visitor traffic to the town, the parks and the Farmers’ Market.
“We feel we are making big strides in making changes for the better and we want to share that with the community; show it off even. We are celebrating and honoring our town, county and country, so we hope people will come out and have a pleasant, enjoyable day. Our volunteers are going to do the best we can to show our visitors the best possible time.”
Featuring the open Chisholm Chili Cook Off celebrating Texas’ state dish, the roundup will also hold a margarita contest celebrating the true Texan adult beverage. A variety of games – including corn hole, horseshoe, washer, three-on three basketball and whiffle ball tournaments – will be celebrating Meridian’s parks and the new and improved amenities they offer. The Centex Classics and Hot Rod Club’s Shine & Show celebrating those spectacularly spiffed up classic cars. And the Bosque Boot Scootin’ Live Music & Dance Series at the Meridian Civic Center in the evening will feature the award-winning Kristyn Harris and her band celebrating Texas swing and classic western music.
The first impression of a town is always important to people driving through, to people looking for a new home, for the current citizens. They like to see a pretty, safe, well-kept town – a town to be proud of. Even though the town is the county seat with a magnificent courthouse, in and around Meridian there are improvements to be made that would enhance the town considerably.
Years ago, Meridian Grassroots started a movement with individuals helping out the city with things like potholes, weeds, mowing of the parks, hauling brush. The City of Meridian instated a Code Enforcement officer to help citizens be aware of their responsibilities regarding fencing, abandoned cars, mowing of yards and more.
As important as those tasks are and continue to be, there were those that dreamt big and hoped for more. They wanted to convert the fuzzy caterpillar with incredible potential into a splendid butterfly. And in a relatively short time, they planned, initiated and completed some pretty impressive projects like the John A. Lomax Amphitheater and the Chisholm Trail Plaza with public restrooms.
The projects embody the main focus of the Meridian Parks and Recreation – projects and activities that enrich the lives of residents, build a healthier community, strengthen the community image and a sense of place and make the city a better place to live, work and play. Residents are slowly, but surely seeing “Our Town, Our Tomorrow” take form.
MERIDIAN MASTER PARK PLAN
The initial steps regarding a comprehensive Master Parks Plan to extend parks, connectivity and walkability for Meridian were taken in 2017 when Bosque County AgriLife Extension Office agent Kate Whitney brought several civic groups together that were expressing wants and needs in that regard. They were Meridian Grassroots, the Meridian Farmers Market, the Ministerial Alliance and the City of Meridian. It became a detailed plan of how the community could enhance their outdoor activity spaces and increase the town’s quality of life.
Thanks to financing by the Meridian Economic Development Corporation, the Meridian Master Park Plan project was initiated under the direction of the Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences Department with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Urban and Municipal Parks development’s Dr. Jamie Rae Walker.
And with the creation of the parks master plan, the big picture emerged.
Ideas and discussions generated in community workshops were evaluated on feasibility, necessity and maintainability for more park space, an amphitheater, a community garden, public restrooms, improving the town’s connectivity, adding walking trails and a splash pad. The projects were designated short, medium and long term projects.
Together with a group of graduate students, Walker started with an inventory of the towns existing assets. Engaging citizen input was another important aspect of their inventory. They connected with citizens at local places around the community to understand what activities citizens participate in at parks and recreation facilities.
“You already have wonderful amenities; it is time to make them more accessible to more people.” said Walker, summing up the plan. “Not one person gave a sentiment against park development. This is exceptional.
“I see a climate you can capitalize on. You all have a very positive attitude towards working together. This is what you need, a bunch of people in a room that want this.”
Little did Walker know that these workshops and talks triggered a proactive approach in a group of enthusiastic and determined citizens who would not shy away from large projects with high visibility. What’s even more remarkable is that this group of engaged, enthusiastic citizens is well past the age considered to be “prime,” yet they’re the ones pulling this cart.
“I want you to be excited, encouraged. Start with the small stuff, because you have people and money for that, then progress to the larger stuff. I want you to be my success story for the next community I’m asked to assist.”
With the lifespan of Bosque County Jail on Morgan Street coming to an end, several local civic organizations and individuals started thinking on how to turn a deteriorating eyesore into a city asset.
With that in mind, the long-drawn process to convince the Bosque County Commissioners to donate the old jail site to the City of Meridian was started. The site would allow for a considerable extension of the existing Meridian Park between Morgan Street and River Street. Many presentations by Parks & Rec board president Don Hatley and Grassroots’ Paul Hardcastle for the commissioners and Meridian City Council followed. And they were received with much skepticism.
Showing their commitment to improving the quality of life in Meridian, the Meridian Economic Development Corporation backed several projects with funding and loans. Their goal is to attract more tourism to the town, and thus increasing sales in local stores and restaurants. And extending parks, outdoor venues and activities surely will draw visitors to town.
The MEDC additionally committed $50,000 to the demolition of the old jail facility in order to kick start the process of creating the extended park area. With the grant, the MEDC took away any cost concerns, allowing the city to receive the donation of the property from the county.
“Demolishing and cleaning up the area alone, regardless on future development, will leave a huge positive impression on people,” MEDC board president at the time Brett Voss said. “Additionally, so much of the master park plan hinges on that area.”
It was up to the city and its Parks and Recreation committee to decide which projects to tackle first.
Voss had recommended doing something highly visible first on the short term to get people excited so more people would want to get involved. But instead of going for the “low hanging fruit,” which would be an easy, inexpensive projects with high visual impact, the group started planning the town’s amphitheater.
JOHN A. LOMAX AMPHITHEATER
The amphitheater project itself was initiated by Jack Cameron of the Bosque Farmers Market. Long before the Master Park Plan was created, Cameron was wondering what should be done about the old jail site. He had visions of the extension of the existing park, and adding a gathering place for all ages, a place to reflect. He attended both the Bosque County Commissioners Court and Meridian City Council several times, helping county and city officials visualize how the area could become an asset to the town instead of an eyesore.
“It was a vortex of like-minded individuals and organizations that came together at the same time,” Cameron said. “We all want to help make Meridian a destination for tourists, and to increase the sense of community at the same time by enhancing its assets. The amphitheater was a good first, very visual step in the plan.”
As it was being built, Meridian citizens could see and feel the venue take form in the limestone-block amphitheater at Meridian Park, a scaled-down version of a Greek amphitheater. Naturally nestled in the sloping terrain – one with the earth – the aesthetically appealing, circular structure embraces those seated, allowing for a bucolic view of the park with old pecan trees, offering a peaceful place to rest. Actors, musicians and other future performers will instantly have a beautiful backdrop to their performances.
Every step of the structure’s build – from the delivery of the rock, the earthwork, the pouring of the cement path and center, laying of the flagstones – was very visible to passersby, and much anticipated by those individuals and organizations that had a hand in the development.
The innately beautiful structure has already been the venue for several important events like free monthly Outdoor Movie Nights, the Bosque Museum Lomax Gathering, and the Bosque River Valley Daughters of the American Revolution Memorial Day tribute. The site was perfect for a Easter Sunrise Service that brought over 130 people to worship. And thanks to an initiative from the Meridian Public Library, the beautiful amphitheater is designated a national Literary Landmark honoring the John A. Lomax legacy as an author and ballad hunter.
In choosing a name for the striking structure, Cameron wanted to tie in local history with the location. Meridian sat on a Chisholm Trail feeder trail, and with it came the authentic cowboy.
A young Meridian lad was captivated by these cowboy chansons, and started writing them down, preserving them for future generations what had been passed only by word of mouth. It was the start of a lifelong preserving and promoting of American folk songs by John Avery Lomax and his son Alan. Besides Texas cowboy country, his travels took him to the Mississippi Delta, recording the slaves chanting in the fields, and the development of the Blues.
A historic marker at the roadside park just outside Meridian on Highway 144 commemorates this special Bosque County citizen. With the approval of Meridian City Council, the exquisite limestone block amphitheater now bears his name, ensuring the Lomax legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of his town folk.
CHISHOLM TRAIL PLAZA
Spearheaded by project manager Paul Hardcastle, the recent completion of the new, multi-functional Chisholm Trail Plaza and public restrooms was an exercise in blood, sweat and tears combined with determination, perseverance and patience. Like the amphitheater build, because of its very visible location, every single step could be followed by passersby. And it seemed forever until the Parks & Rec Committee could plan the grand opening March 26.
Walker had urged to celebrate small successes. But because of the magnitude of the first major projects, it turned into celebrating big successes.
“Wow, just wow,” Hatley said in his speech prior to the grand opening ceremony of the Chisholm Trail Plaza in Meridian to the crowd of about 200 people present on a beautiful Saturday evening. “That wow is for you, your presence. Because you are most important. You being here to enjoy this facility makes all this worthwhile.”
And the Grand Opening party was the first in quarterly scheduled dances called Bosque Boot Scootin’ Live Music & Dance Series at the Chisholm Trail Plaza.
Demolition costs could have been exorbitant, if not for assistance from Powers Construction and their heavy equipment that reduced the old jail to a pile of rubble in a matter of days. The county precinct barns offered their assistance, coming in with their trucks remove the debris.
Prior to the final plan for the plaza, several options were explored regarding renovating the old jail into a visitors’ center. To circumvent demolition costs, the Parks & Rec Committee looked into renovating the front office to ultimately serve as a welcome center and meeting place, along with storage for the Bosque Farmers Market in the old jail cells. But Meridian City Council members were increasingly concerned about black mold, replacing old air conditioning units, sewage and plumbing problems and more, which could cause costly reconstruction.
After discussing many different options and variations, in the end, with expert advice from engineers, it was decided to cap the old slab and create an outdoor plaza, also with a name reflecting the Chisholm Trail heritage of the area.
And while these two major projects were being completed, several other projects were taken on. Some of the finished projects include:
• Creating a community garden area – the debris from the old jail site transported by Bosque County precinct trucks filled up the defunct pool area.
• A projector and outdoor screen at the amphitheater for free outdoor movies.
• Thanks to a grant from the Meridian EDC; decorative ridge lighting on the square businesses and on Main Street lights up the town green for St. Patrick’s Day, red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, orange for Thanksgiving, giving downtown a festive, welcoming feel – also a Meridian EDC investment.
• Thanks to private donations, the Meridian Parks and Recreation Beautification Committee added picnic tables in the Meridian Park, decorative garbage cans and trees around the amphitheater.
• Thanks to a grant, lights and safer sidewalks are in the works, putting down town is a bit of a mess at the moment. But the new sidewalks will make a huge difference.
• To offer people a fun way to spend time outdoors, a nine-hole disc golf course was created. Because the course goes from Lions Park to Meridian Park by way of the river’s flood plain, increased mowing and weed control opened up a much-needed, safe walkway under the Bosque River Bridge.
But the Parks and Recreation Committee remains far from done. There are a multitude of future projects in the works, like:
• A LED sign for community announcements next to the Chisholm Trail Plaza.
• Playground equipment donated by Meridian Independent School District will be placed in the area between the Chisholm Trail Plaza and the John A. Lomax Amphitheater, along with a flag pole.
• Two competition pickleball courts as well as a practice/warmup court at the Chisholm Trail Plaza.
• Improving the lights at Lion’s Park for the basketball court, horseshoe and washer pits.
• Opening up river access and hiking trail along the river.
• And a designated committee is researching a community splash pad – finding a suitable location and financing is the main obstacle there.
So, why do these groups and individuals seemingly tirelessly want to put a lot of time, effort and money into spearheading these projects? They care for their city and community and they want to increase the quality of life within the community they life in; for themselves, for their neighbors, for the families, for all age groups from children to seniors.
“Building these facilities and organizing all these events, activities and sports have one sole purpose,” said Voss, now the Meridian Parks & Recreation Director of Entertainment and Events. “We hope to bring back the sense of community that is vital for the survival of small towns. And we are seeing an increased interest in the activities going on, which is making us hopeful.”
At the grand opening of the plaza, Bosque County Commissioner Precinct 4 Ronny Liardon shared that his first thoughts on hearing the monumental plans for the old jail site were “Are they out of their minds?” But emphasizing the group’s tenacity, determination, gumption and grit, Liardon said the group proved two age-old idioms wrong – that you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and that you can squeeze blood out of a turnip.
He compared their vision and drive to the same kind of determination the first group of Norwegian and German settlers showed when developing their communities in the new county. Meridian Parks & Rec might not have fought off American Indian arrows but they had to ward off many “arrows” in the form of challenges.
“Hats off to you guys,” Liardon said. “This is a great monument to our original settlers.”
It is the energy, vision and “get ‘r done” attitude that took the town from “daring to dream,” to “Wow, look what we’ve accomplished!” – taking the somewhat unsightly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly just out of its cocoon, slowly unfurling its wings in the sunshine, getting ready to fly.
The Chisholm Chili Cook Off and all the surrounding activities promises to be a fun, family event with loads of stuff to enjoy. Be sure to check it out! Bring the family, bring your friends, come play, come have fun, come listen to the music, come enjoy Meridian at its best. Come be part of this new signature Bosque County event! See flyer for all the planned, fun activities and times.
To sign up as a chili cooker, Margarita mixologist, vendor or participant in the games, please visit the City of Meridian website at: https://www.meridiantexas.us/community/page/special-events or https://www.meridiantexas.us/forms. Cook off rules and regulations can also be found on the website, or all Meridian City Hall at 254-435-2381 for more information.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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