City officially receives 38-acre donation for new Underwood Park in west Fayetteville

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

South Fayetteville has Walker Park. There’s Wilson Park near the center of town, and folks who live in east Fayetteville have Gulley Park to enjoy.

Soon, west Fayetteville will get its own large community park for picnicking, running, walking, and playing.

That’s thanks to a donation made final last week of the first 38 acres of a planned 65-acre gift that will soon become Underwood Park.

The land for the new park, located at the site formerly home to Razorback Golf Course west of Dean Soloman Road, was donated to the city by locals Craig and Laura Underwood.

“Fayetteville’s parks are a key part of our city’s identity and culture,” said Fayetteville Mayor Lioned Jordan in a press release issued last week. “With this generous donation from the Underwood family, we can extend the benefit of our parks into a part of our community that has been in need of the recreation and health benefits natural spaces provide. We are enormously grateful to the Underwoods for their unflagging support for and commitment to this community.”

The Underwood family purchased the land in 2017. Their plan at the time, Craig told us, was to hang on to the property for 10 to 15 years as an investment.

A few years later, however, the family began exploring the possibility of building a multifamily development on a portion of the property, and the idea to create a large park in west Fayetteville started gaining steam.

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

The multi-family project the Underwoods were exploring on the south end of the property would require a 12.04-acre donation as part of the city’s Park Land Dedication ordinance, but meetings with engineer Keith Tencleve and Ward 4 Council Member Kyle Smith led to the understanding that the Underwoods could make their investment in the property work while still donating a much larger parcel of land to create a park that compares to the iconic parks in other parts of the city.

“I have so many fond memories of growing up and spending time at Gulley Park, and spending time with our kids there as they were growing up,” Craig said. “We started discussing the feasibility of donating a portion of the property for a big park in that area of town.”

The full roughly 65 acres of parkland will be donated in a phased approach, beginning with the 38 acres announced last week, with additional tracts to be added in future donations. In the meantime, the Underwoods will lease a portion of that future land to the city at no charge so that the residents can begin enjoying it as a park as soon as possible.

Ted Jack, the city’s park planning superintendent, said having a park in an area of town that was previously underserved is a huge win for the community.

“It’s big. We’ve got different types of parks, neighborhood, community, regional parks,” Jack said. “That part of town was really lacking this type of community park. If (the Underwood’s) hadn’t (donated the land), I don’t know how we would have been able to meet that need.”

Jack said the proximity to the Wilson Springs preserve, which runs contiguous to the property along with the Clabber Creek Corridor, the opportunity to create an “emerald necklace” of natural areas and green space makes the land even more attractive for a park.

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

“It’s like you’re getting a bigger park than the 65 acres,” Jack said.

Combined with Wilson Springs, the park will combine to create nearly 2.5 miles of contiguous green space for nature lovers to enjoy.

Parks and Recreation Director Connie Edmonston said her department hasn’t yet begun to determine what amenities will be built on the land, but she knows there is a demand for facilities that support an active lifestyle, like walking, jogging, and others. A playground, areas for picnicking, and a pavilion to enjoy music and other performances also seem like a good fit for the property, she said.

Underwood also mentioned a desire for a pavilion or space for music one day on the property, recalling fond memories watching Trout Fishing In America, Ultra Suede, and others at Gulley Park as his children grew up in the neighborhood. He also said he and Laura enjoy the Apple Seeds programming at Gulley Park, and would love for something like that to be available in west Fayetteville.

The park will allow for an extension of Clabber Creek Trail, which will help establish a western connection to the Razorback Greenway.

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Underwood, Jack, and Edmonston all mentioned the potential for a kayak or canoeing area, and a stocked fishing area that takes advantage of the large pond on the property.

Ultimately, though, those ideas for what amenities to build on Underwood Park will come from the community, Edmonston said.

“We want to wait and do a master plan,” she said. “We’ll have lots of public meetings so people can be engaged so we know we are making a park that meets their needs.”

Those meetings and input sessions could begin soon after the new year, but no specific plans have been announced at this time.

Edmonston said the budget is also a concern, with HMR revenues that support park development down as a result of the pandemic. Still, funds for development of the park are already earmarked in the CIP the city council will be considering early in 2021.

She is hopeful that other sources of funds and donations could also help create more amenities on the property.

“That is the kind of legacy of parks,” Edmonston said. “For a family that want to be part of it, to donate a legacy as the Underwoods did. Whether it is land, or just to name a bench in a park, that is something they can hand to their grandchildren and for generations after.”

The possibilities for amenities on such a large piece of property, and the legacy that something like this type of park can create for future generations of Fayettevillians is exciting, Underwood said.

“It is such a huge honor that the city is willing to name it Underwood Park,” Craig said. “We were so honored and thrilled with that designation.”

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Thinking of that legacy led Craig to his father Bill Underwood, who moved to Fayetteville and built his Underwood’s Fine Jewelry business right here in town.

“It goes back to my dad’s roots,” he said. “I am so happy for both of my parents. My dad moved here in 1957, and started his store with just $1000. Those first years were lean as he was laying that foundation, and just building it on quality, service, honesty, and being here for the long haul. I came into the business in 1987, and was able to build on the foundation he started.

“Now, to be able to give back to this community in this way, and create a space that families are going to enjoy for generations, just thinking of my Dad who is 88 this year, and all that has come together and all of the people involved leading up to this moment, it really does means a lot,” he said.

According to the Parks Department, Underwood Park will open to the public in early spring of 2021.

More Photos

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

Photos: Courtesy, Craig Underwood

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