PHOTOS: Freedom Park starts double duty as recreation spot and water filter

Sneak peek of Freedom Park

New Collier park near completion

Hours: Open 8 a.m. to sunset daily.

More info: 252-4060 or 252-4024.

About Freedom Memorial: www.CollierRemembers.org.

— Years in the making, Collier County’s newest place to get outside swung open its doors Tuesday.

A marching band played, schoolchildren sang patriotic songs and politicians gave speeches to mark the grand opening of Freedom Park.

Beyond the visitor center, nature boardwalk and hiking and bike trails, the 50-acre, $31 million park near the corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway has more than meets the eye.

It’s also part water filter and part expression of a community’s spirit.

“It is a truly remarkable project,” Collier Commissioner Fred Coyle told about 100 people who attended the opening ceremony.

A system of created lakes and wetlands will help reduce neighborhood flooding and help clean runoff before it flows into the Gordon River and eventually Naples Bay, park planners say.

The park also is the future home for the Freedom Memorial, a community-backed project to remember the heroes of 9/11.

A 6-foot long, 660-pound piece of the World Trade Center, on display Tuesday at the ceremony, will one day be housed permanently at the Freedom Park visitor center, organizers said.

The park is at the northern end of a proposed greenway system of boardwalks and trails being planned along the river between Golden Gate Parkway and U.S. 41 East.

Naples Mayor Bill Barnett signaled a willingness Tuesday to talk more with county officials about a pedestrian overpass above Golden Gate Parkway to link Freedom Park with the greenway.

“This is definitely a day to rejoice,” Barnett said.

Cynthia Saltus, 38, said the park likely will be a popular spot for families like hers, which includes three boys between 7 and 11 years old.

“I think it’s awesome,” Saltus said.

Corey McKay, 25, walking the boardwalk Tuesday with a digital camera around his neck, said the multi-purpose park is a welcome addition to Naples.

“We need about a dozen more of them,” he said.

Collier County bought the land for the park for $19.2 million in 2004.

Crews worked for 17 months to build the park at a cost of $12.3 million, according to county figures.

Collier County, the county’s Conservation Collier program, the local arm of the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Communities Trust helped pay for the project.

Tuesday’s ceremony included remarks by county commissioners Frank Halas, Tom Henning and Jim Coletta, Conservation Collier advisory committee chairman Bill Poteet and Water Management District governing board member Charles Dauray.

Students from The Village School at North Naples United Methodist Church sang patriotic songs, and the Barron Collier High School band played.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

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