“Higher, Mommy,” said 3-year-old Zion Courtney, giggling on a child safety swing Thursday at Lions Club Park in Killeen.
His mother, Kristina Wilson, pushed him up, holding the plastic chair above her head.
Wilson, who is from the south side of Chicago but has lived in Copperas Cove for the past four years, brings her two children, Zion and 16-month-old Aleja Courtney, to Lions Club Park as much as possible, especially on nice days like Thursday, she said. The park has lot of things to do and plenty of other children with whom her kids can play.
“It is a very family friendly park,” Wilson said.
Between Copperas Cove, Killeen and Harker Heights, more than 1,250 acres of park land and a variety of amenities are available for residents to use. However, each city allocated parks and recreation space differently.
“Quality of life is a key component in the success of a community,” said Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison. City parks add to that quality of life. “It is often what makes people choose to live in a city and a factor when businesses choose a location.”
Killeen dedicated the most recreation space — about 564 acres — to 25 city parks and recreation facilities. With two skate parks, numerous playgrounds and swings, picnic areas, basketball courts, a golf course, pools and an aquatic water park, Killeen also has more amenities than other cities in the area.
Copperas Cove’s eight parks make up 497 acres, with the vast majority of acreage — 218 — contained in mostly undeveloped Ogletree Gap Park. The city has plans for multiple baseball/softball fields and other amenities at the park, but residents declined to fund the project. The Hills of Cove golf course accounts for another 130 acres.
Harker Heights maintains 195 acres of park land spread among nine parks, and it doesn’t have a golf course.
Copperas Cove also has the most space per capita, with an acre for every 68 people. Harker Heights and Killeen have 143 and 239 people per acre of recreational space, respectively.
Space is important in determining a park’s amenities, said Killeen Parks and Recreation Director Brett Williams and Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Bark. If the space and amenities are not married right, the space can go unused, Bark said.
“Large parks are able to incorporate structures like pavilions, fields and trails, while smaller parks may have items like swings and benches,” Williams said.
Killeen makes use of six parks that are less than an acre in size. Another nine parks are less than seven acres.
Having a variety of park space allows residents to have greater access to recreation, Morrison said.
“Killeen is a diverse community, so diversifying the types of parks, park amenities and programs we offer ensures recreational opportunities for everyone,” Morrison said. “People enjoy recreation in different ways, so we work very hard to make parks and parks programming desirable and accessible.”
One way to increase access is to put smaller parks in neighborhoods, Morrison said.
While visiting Lions Club Park in Killeen on Thursday, resident April Perton said she preferred the parks in Harker Heights. She takes her pets to the dog park at Purser Family Park, and Harker Heights Community Park has amenities for her whole family.
She does, however, use the Tommy Harris Fitness Center in Killeen regularly.
Bark credited residents and community leaders for Harker Heights’ success in developing four community parks.
“The city has been fortunate in the development of park property in the last 15 years,” he said. “Tracts of land have been donated and other property owners have had a vision of linking certain subdivisions or becoming an anchor of additional commercial development through park space.”
To establish park features, most cities create master plans guided by residents’ opinions. Bark said the city built the dog park based on the results of citizen surveys and opinions expressed in public meetings.
“The department has been pleasantly surprised with the usage of the dog park at Purser Family Park,” Bark said.
Surveys led Killeen to create an aquatic center, spray pad, skate park and disc golf course, and hike and bike trails were established at the request of residents.
“I think the important thing is to find out what is important to our community,” Williams said.
More than 5 percent of Harker Heights’ total adopted budget is dedicated to parks and recreation, spending about $78 per person.
“I think the commitment is there to take care of the amenities that we build,” Bark said. “Quality of life and our services are important, and you have to maintain those facilities and put money into the programs.”
Copperas Cove and Killeen spend close to $50 per person for parks and recreation services and facilities maintenance. Parks and recreation expenses make up about 3 percent of their total budgets.
Killeen, however, spends about $6.2 million for its parks and recreation programs, almost three times more than Harker Heights.
The cities will continue to seek additional recreational space for residents.
“If we double the parks today, we would still need more land in the future,” Morrison said.
Wilson and several others at Lions Club Park on Thursday were just glad to have some fun, safe places for their children to play.
“This is the best park I have seen,” Wilson said. “My children love to run around here.”