Waco leaders rave about new Cameron Park 'Northern Gateway' at ribbon-cutting

City of Waco intern Sophilia Shu tries out the new playground equipment at Cameron Park’s newly unveiled Northern Gateway.

Think of Cameron Park’s new “Northern Gateway” as a bonus from the 2007 city bond election.

The city built the $1.6 million picnic and playground area near Lovers Leap using bond money left from cost underruns on other projects funded by the $6.9 million designated for Cameron Park.

But nothing about the project looks like an afterthought. Community leaders at a ribbon-cutting Thursday said the redevelopment of the old Northern Little League fields adds both beauty and function to Cameron Park.

“I do know quality when I see it, and I see quality here,” said Mayor Jim Bush, a longtime commercial building contractor.

The new park node includes whimsical playground equipment, a 150-seat limestone picnic pavilion, spacious restrooms, custom lighting and an unusual new attraction: misting canopies where people can cool off at the push of a button.

Like other bond-funded improvements, the Northern Gateway includes distinctive design elements such as light fixtures and benches inspired by the park’s earliest days a century ago.

Park planner Sharon Fuller, who helped design the Northern Gateway with consultant AECom and architect Catera+Reed, said it should attract groups large and small.

She said the new recreation area should siphon some picnicking families away from Pecan Bottom, which has become crowded on weekends. It will also be available for school and company picnics, such as one SpaceX is planning in a few weeks, and for events such as mountain bike tournaments.

The Northern Gateway has ample parking, including spaces for buses and horse trailers.

“This gives us a really big area to stage events,” she said.

City parks director Rusty Black said the project creates a “destination area” in an “underutilized” part of the park.

Black said the Cameron Park Master Plan called for the creation of the Northern Gateway, but he didn’t think the $6.9 million in bond funding would cover it.

Because of the economic downturn, bids for other projects came in about $2 million lower than expected, and the remainder was used for this project, as well as sign work and a bridge over Wilson Creek in Pecan Bottom.

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