A new stone arch gateway and native tree species will be added to Delano Park on the east side of Eighth Avenue Southeast as part of a $100,000 project that officials announced Thursday.

The Delano Park Conservancy also wants to install a new crosswalk at Eighth Avenue to connect the two sections of the 132-year-old park that are east of Sixth Avenue, but the group hasn't started soliciting support for that effort.

Barbara Kelly of the nonprofit Delano Park Conservancy said the tree planting, which will begin next month, and the gateway will be funded by a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Decatur obtained by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and $50,000 in matching donations raised by her group from individuals and businesses.

"We're challenged to begin something new, but we're ready to," Kelly said during an announcement of the project and dedication of 10 sets of signs in the park's Riverwild Garden.

The arch will be just north of the park's splash pad at the gravel path that circles the east end of the park and is known as the Delano Mile.

"When you enter the Delano Mile at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Prospect Drive, you'll pass through an iconic stone gateway, and believe me it's going to be really cool," Kelly said.

Native trees eventually will be planted on all 28 acres of the park from Fourth Avenue Southeast to Somerville Road, but the initial planting will focus on the park's eastern end.

"The trees will be labeled to help visitors learn and give families the ability and desire to go back home and plant these trees in their own yard so north Alabama becomes a better, greener, cleaner place," she said.

"Part of the vision is that Delano Park would become a certified arboretum, a living museum of native trees which will celebrate Alabama's amazing biodiversity of plants and animals."

Orr said he grew up near Delano Park and appreciates the work of the conservancy. He was in Sydney, Australia, this summer walking with his 8-year-old daughter in that city's 40-acre public Hyde Park.

"She ... said, 'Daddy why don't we have a park this nice in Decatur back home?' And I said, 'Well, we kind of do.' And thanks to your efforts, we kind of do, but there's more we can do for this."

Kelly said the planned new crossing over Eighth Avenue would be similar to the new crossings on Fourth Avenue near the Cook Museum of Natural Science and would make moving from one part of the park to another safer. Plans for the crossing haven't been completed.

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New signs

Kelly said the 10 signs, including three double kiosks and seven single-panel signs, were added as part of the continued development of Riverwild Playground and Garden for All Children. Riverwild was built as part of massive park restoration that began in 2005. 

"We wanted to have a story for the playground," Kelly said.

The theme for the signage revolves around the Tennessee River Valley, plants, animals and cultural history of the area. Kelly said the information from the signs will tell park visitors about "the river before the dams when the river was a wild river."

Kelly said the signs were created with funding from grants provided by Alabama's Mountains Rivers & Valleys Resource Conservation & Development Council and Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.

The park as been developed and maintained through a partnership between Delano Park Conservancy and the city of Decatur.

Kelly said more than 1,000 volunteer hours have gone into the new signage.

"There has been a lot of investment from the community," Kelly said.

—brucem@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2431. Twitter @BruceMcLellan1 

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