Enjoying unusually mild winter weather over the weekend, hundreds of residents turned out for the opening of the new Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park in Mansfield.
The park was packed for Saturday’s grand opening, and the large crowds continued through Sunday.
The big turnout was preceded by a legal fight. A judge on Friday refused to block the opening of a bridge at the new Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park, which had a grand opening of its $3 million first phase Saturday.
The bridge crosses Walnut Creek and connects the new 80-acre park on Matlock Road to a greenbelt area that includes a small lake and a winding trail adjoining the Arbors of Creekwood subdivision.
The owners of the several homes that back up to the south side of the lake – they are part of Estates of Creekwood, a gated community within the Arbors – contend the bridge will funnel park patrons onto the property, increasing their liability risk. Mansfield police officers were on hand Sunday to remind residents where the park property ended.
The city contends that the developer of the Arbors 18 years ago earmarked the green space between the lake and Walnut Creek for future use as a public park. The residents say they have a different reading of the 1995 deeds, plat and other documents. They filed for an injunction on Wednesday.
After a hearing Friday afternoon, Judge Dana Womack of the 348th District Court ruled in favor of the city. She did not elaborate from the bench.
The residents aren’t done with their challenge, said Jack Muhlbeier, an Estates resident and a spokesman for the neighbors.
“I can tell you right now that this is going to be a long way from over,” he said.
Oliver Park, at 1601 Matlock Road, is unique in Mansfield in that is dedicated completely to observing and learning about nature. There are no sports fields or playground equipment. The bridge is one of the few structures and is especially important because it would be the park’s only link to the future trail of the Walnut Creek Linear Park, which eventually will span from the city to Joe Pool Lake.
The $3 million second phase of Oliver Park will consist mostly of extending the linear park trail through Oliver Park to Joe Pool, about 2.8 miles.
That 12-foot concrete trail would replace most of the existing 5-foot-wide trail along the subdivision’s northern edge, Taylor said.
Residents voiced concerns to the News-Mirror last June about liability for people who would cross the bridge and get injured on the subdivision trail or in the lake. The subdivision’s ownership of the lake has not been disputed.
Mayor David Cook and other officials who met with homeowners said early this month that they thought the issue had been resolved when the city approved an easement to allow the residents to build a screening fence along the north side of the lake.
But residents said Friday that the easement documents limit fencing choices to a three-bar metal-pipe fence, similar to ranch fences, and would be both expensive and unsightly.
“If the city’s not going to work with us and try to get us a fence that would match our neighborhood, then we have no choice” but to continue challenging, said Phillip Klotz, whose property backs up to the lake.
Cook disagreed. He said the city first proposed a two-rail pipe fence to avoid drainage problems, then later agreed to a four-rail pipe.
“We changed it from a two-rail to a four-rail fence at the request of the affected homeowners, and then, subsequent to the agreement, without any notification to the city, the homeowners filed a lawsuit,” Cook said.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report.