Saturday, March 15, 2003

Grass-roots movement launched to improve Ryan Park

By Jean K. Williams
Enquirer contributor

Nancy Comer noticed the trash and overgrown weeds. Dan Klare watched a father in a wheelchair struggle across the field to attend a baseball game.

Comer and Klare, both Westwood residents, spend lots of time at the neighborhood's Ryan Memorial Commons (or Ryan Park, as it's known). Like many of their neighbors, they saw it needed help.

They were among more than two dozen Westwood residents who met recently with Cincinnati Recreation Commission Director Jim Garges to talk about improving the park, one of the city's oldest.

Ryan Park has a swimming pool, tennis courts, ball fields and picturesque hills and fields shaded by mature trees.

The park - entered by Meyer Place and Felicity Drive about one block south of Montana Avenue -symbolizes many of Westwood's neighborhood problems, as vandalism and safety have become an increasing concern to residents.

But those working toward Ryan Park's improvement think it also will symbolize Westwood's neighborhood rebirth.

"This park is going to make a difference in our neighborhood. It's a first step in revitalizing Westwood," said nine-year Westwood resident John Eby.

Klare had little trouble drumming up interest. Westwood native and landscape architect Katie Bower drew up a detailed sketch of proposed park improvements that include a shelter and a landscaped walking path.

Eby pitched the park improvement plan to Westwood civic groups and to Garges, whose department maintains the park. Meanwhile, Comer organized a park clean-up that pulled in 19 volunteer families.

When Garges attended the meeting at St. Catharine School this month, he found a large group of people ready to volunteer. "It was awesome," he said. "Usually the (recreation) department does the plans, then tries to find a few interested people."

But Garges also points out that his department has a $109 million backlog of proposed improvements or repairs at recreation areas all over the city and, for this year, a $6.5 million capital improvement budget to work with.

A renovation plan for Ryan Park can be developed soon, he said. Then community ideas can be sought and various fund-raising efforts set as the city also contributes toward the park's progress, he said. Eby estimated that "we're probably looking at a five- to 10-year turnaround time" for a complete park renovation.

In the meantime, an open meeting to discuss the park's future is planned for early April; the time and place will be announced.

Eby has invited neighborhood representatives from Northside, English Woods, East Westwood and Price Hill, and has commitments to attend from Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and Todd Portune, Hamilton County commissioner and Westwood resident.

Land for the 23-acre park was bought in 1911 by the city, which named it Westwood Commons. It was renamed in 1955 for longtime Westwood resident Dennis J. Ryan.

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