• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Improving Big Spring Park for future generations

A place for the community” – that’s what Christa Stoudt wants Big Spring Park to become again. “Like it used to be,” added Versailles City Council member Laura Dake.

Both are actively involved with a subcommittee of the city’s downtown planning advisory committee (now known as the Big Spring Park subcommittee), which has spent the last 10 or so months working on ideas for making improvements to Big Spring Park, Dake said.

Lifelong Woodford County resident Lillie Cox remembers when Big Spring Park was a very special space for many in the community. Family reunions and birthday parties were commonplace in this park known for its natural spring that runs beneath the City of Versailles.

“I’d love to see this (park) brought back to the glory that it was…,” said Cox, who also serves on the Big Spring Park subcommittee.

An Earth Day event held at Big Spring Park a year ago was the start of a cleanup effort, with efforts continuing in recent months to remove dead trees and clean out invasive plant species, Dake said.

The Big Spring Park subcommittee hosted walk-throughs at the park with civil engineering and landscape architecture firms in January and February, according to Dake.

Following a review of several proposals in March, she said Element Design was selected to begin preliminary talks with subcommittee members this week on cost estimates to make improvements to Big Spring Park, while also taking steps to ensure its natural solitude is retained. These discussions will provide some direction in determining what outdoor spaces in the park are best-suited for programs and activities for people of different ages, explained Stoudt and Dake.

Owned by Versailles-Woodford County Parks & Recreation, with funding provided by the City of Versailles (45 percent) and Woodford County (55 percent) governments, Dake said a design plan for Big Spring Park needs the support of both local governments and input from people in the community about what they’d like the park to become “so it’s not just our ideas about what we want for the park…” Public input should ultimately influence the design of Big Spring Park, she added.

“That’s what the park’s about, is to get that community involvement. We can’t rely on government alone,” said Stoudt.

When Big Spring Park was established in 1940, the public space became a gathering place and focal point of downtown Versailles.

Its popularity dwindled with the closing of a public pool and the opening of Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, but Dake said this public space has a lot of potential with improved access, new restroom facilities and better lighting.

A mother of two young children, Stoudt knows this outdoor space needs improvements so it’s more inviting for families, but views Big Spring Park as “a wonderful, wonderful space” that can benefit her kids and other youth in the community by tapping into its vast potential.

For example, Big Spring Park’s walking paths could be linked to other public parks in the community. It’s already an easy walk to Big Spring Park for families in many neighborhoods. Young children continue to use its playground equipments, which was evident on a recent weekday afternoon with temperatures in the 50s.

“For a city to have a 17-acre green space right in the middle of town is very unusual,” said Dake of Big Spring Park.

“It’s like our Central Park,” continued Stoudt.

“And we need to take care of it and treasure it because it is a treasure,” added Dake.

The downtown park was historically known as Big Springs Bottom, an African-American community. There were three streets of homes, a church and several factories in the valley below the springs, according to a History of Big Spring Park, written and researched by Marti

Martin, former curator of the Woodford County Historical Society.

This history should not be forgotten when improvements are made to Big Spring Park, Dake and Stoudt agreed. They also support remembering the natural history of this public park behind the Woodford County Courthouse.

Versailles is here because of the spring situated in a cavern under the courthouse square, stated Martin in a History of Big Spring Park.

“Every settlement needs a source of water,” she wrote.

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