Junior League unveils big plans for city's Cook Park
A few swimmers take advantage of the swimming pool at Cook Park on a sunny summer day. (Staff photo by Jerry Mennenga)

A skatepark here, a repainted community building there.

A new amphitheatre added and an updating to 21st Century playground equipment.

Put it all together and you've got a reborn Cook Park.

More improvements are on the way at the park, located over several blocks between West Fourth and West Sixth streets. Much of it will come through the volunteerism of the Junior League of Sioux City.

The spacious place has something of a checkered history. At a press conference there last week, city manager Paul Eckert invited people to come down to the skatepark -- then, in the next breath, asked that it not be vandalized, either. "We've had issues here," Eckert said.

Junior League president Marilyn Eastman said that over the next three years the group "is really going to transform this park into a park that celebrates the diversity of our community. Over the next year, you are going to see a performance amphitheatre being set up and we are going to be hosting a variety of different performances by all sorts of different cultural groups. That will continue indefinitely."

The amphitheatre will be built into a naturally rising western portion of the park, where people can sit elevated above the staging area. Some sort of canopy will be installed above the amphitheatre and work will begin yet this fall.

In year two, Eastman said, a new playground will be installed, with the equipment to be targeted for ages 2-10. The final year will involve more park amenities. "Over the next few years, you will see this park transformed into what we feel will be a destination park," she said. "It will be accessible and fun for all ages and all of Siouxland."

The cost over the three years is anticipated to reach $100,000, with funding coming from the Junior League and the city putting forth in-kind monies of about $30,000. "The whole idea is that the dollar amount will be spent on materials," Eastman said, with labor coming from other volunteer groups like the Mayor's Youth Commission and Girls Inc.

The local Junior League money comes in large part from sales at the Discovery Shop, which sells thrift items that have been donated, including clothing, housewares, books and collectibles. The Discovery Shop is located near the park at 316 W. Seventh St. "So, this is our backyard and we really wanted to make a difference in our very own neighborhood," Eastman said.

Another neighborhood person is Don Nieman, who lives just west of the park at the corner of West Fifth and Main streets. Retired, Nieman doesn't use the park himself, but sits on his porch and watches people who do.

Nieman said he doesn't like some of the drinking he sees at the park, but notes Cook hasn't earned negative notoriety. "People say, 'Well, I'd never live around there,'" he offered, but "you go out to Morningside and the northside and you have vandalism too."

Nieman said the neighborhood is well-served by the park. "The pool is pretty well packed, from kids all around," he said, and the shelterhouse and skatepark are well used.

Agreed, said neighborhood resident, Akiesha Keairns, 15. Overseeing two cousins on playground equipment, Keairns said she used the park a lot from age 5 to 10. "I think the park has always been a good park," Keairns said. "A lot of people come down to get away and have fun." The skatepark particularly, she said, "was a great idea," giving one focal point in town to lawfully skate.

Informed of the changes, she was enthusiastic, favoring "putting more in this park to keep kids out of trouble and doing more recreational things."

City parks and recreation director Kerry Gill said she is pleased the "Junior League has pretty much adopted Cook Park for the next several years."

Painting of the community building was "kind of the kickoff for the improvements that we see happening in this park over the next couple years," Gill said. The newly painted building in the park was the product of a Diamond Vogel donation of paint and the labor of the Junior League of Sioux City.

The Junior League is an organization of women committed to volunteerism and improving the community. The park enhancements are part of the Junior League's mission to revitalize neighborhoods, promote interaction and a greater understanding of people of all cultures.

The Junior League has also worked on the Orpheum, Sioux City Art Center, put in a gallery in the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center of Stone State Park and made backpacks of needed items for children who have been removed by law enforcement from troublesome homes.

Bret Hayworth may be reached at (712)293-4203 or brethayworth@siouxcityjournal.com

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