By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – A crowd of about 80 people is the largest Dana Peak has seen in almost three years, and they celebrated its reopening Friday.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials were surrounded by Harker Heights and Belton Chamber of Commerce members, city officials and U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, as they cut two ribbons to declare Dana Peak Park open.
"This is a community's park," said Col. Richard J. Muraski Jr., commander and engineer of the Fort Worth District Army Corps of Engineers. "This is the city of Belton's and the city of Harker Heights' park."
Dana Peak is on Stillhouse Hollow Lake, Army Corps of Engineers property, and it was closed from May 2007 to Friday because floodwaters destroyed its facilities.
In 2006, more than 3 million people visited Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, Muraski said.
"More people visit here than Mount Rushmore. That is pretty cool," he said.
With help from the federal government and Carter, the Army Corps of Engineers were able to open all the parks around the lakes that were ruined by floodwaters in less than three years, which is a feat, Muraski said.
"There is just as much sweat equity as there was money," Carter said, saying volunteers played a large role in cleaning up the park after it flooded. "This is truly, truly the people's park."
Harker Heights Mayor Ed Mullen and Belton Mayor Jim Covington also spoke about the park's opening.
Carter aided the area quickly by coming to visit the park after it flooded, Mullen said, thanking Carter for his work to secure stimulus funds for reconstruction.
Harker Heights is excited to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to use Dana Peak for its 50th birthday celebration, Mullen said.
Covington said the parks are a huge economic engine for the cities. "It drives the economy around here," he said.
For Muraski, the reconstruction of the park means a lot, he said.
He visited the park often with his children and even with other soldiers while he was stationed at Fort Hood.
The soldiers would come out and ride bikes and run the park grounds, while he would spend the day canoeing with his sons on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
"(The reopening) is kind of the closing of one chapter and the opening of another," Muraski said.
Dana Peak is the final park to be opened after the 2007 rains closed many facilities around Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes. Reconstruction made the parks safer and smarter since the Corps used flood-resistant materials, Muraski said, adding that they hope to avoid costly rebuilding in the future.
The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to give people a place for recreation, Muraski said.
"It is a people's park," he said.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.