A small waterfall is the first complete feature of a long-anticipated mini-park that is taking shape next to Whitetail Screen Printing, near Sixth and Jeffers in North Platte.
Greenery and places to sit will be added, along with a plaque honoring long-time newspaper North Platte Telegraph editor Keith Blacklege.
The next step will be to erect a sign with the name of the park. Then trees and shrubs will be planted and benches will be set. The mini-park should be finished in September, North Platte Public Services Director Layne Groseth said.
It will add to the attractiveness of the area along Jeffers St. / U.S. Highway 83, near the restored Switchyard restaurant and Prairie Art Center.
Blackledge was a hearty supporter of the North Platte Bulletin.
The memorial park has been in the works since about 2012. The old homeless shelter that once stood there was demolished in August 2011.
The North Platte Community Redevelopment Agency, which administers economic development incentives such as “TIF” projects, took charge of the property.
The CRA bought the old building in 2010 for $200,000. The payment helped the homeless shelter (The Connection) qualify for grants and finish fundraising for the new shelter near Sixth and Chestnut, which cost more than $1 million.
The CRA hired Cement Products to tear down the old building, after Cement Products submitted a low bid of $90,000 to do the work.
After the rubble was removed, the CRA turned the property over to the city and plans got underway to create a park there.
The small water fall is the first feature of the park to be finished. It was created by Stone Creek Landscape of North Platte.
The Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation awarded Keep North Platte & Lincoln County Beautiful a grant of $17,460 for the Blackledge Park project to help pay for landscaping and the water feature, Executive Director Eric Seacrest said.
Also, Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation collected nearly $10,000 in donations to help pay for the project, Seacrest said. The Lincoln County Visitor’s Bureau contributed another $8,000. Keep North Platte and Lincoln County Beautiful coordinated the project.
Blackledge edited the Telegraph for 25 years. He retired in 1992, but continued to write a weekly column as the “Old Editor” until shortly before he died in 2010.
Blackledge began his journalism career as a reporter for the North Platte Telegraph-Bulletin in 1952. (The Bulletin and Telegraph were merged at the time.)
After a series of other assignments and jobs, Blackledge returned to North Platte in 1967. He was named the executive editor of the Telegraph, and later named vice-president and director of public affairs.
He is the author of four books — A Short History of North Platte, The Election of 1951, Letters to Home and This Town Fights About Everything – the story of the establishment of Great Plains Regional Hospital (now GPH) and other developments.
Blackledge was also instrumental in civic affairs, helping launch the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation in 1978, which has grown to more than $20 million in assets.
He played a key role in the six-year campaign to build the hospital and replace two aging hospitals in 1975. He initiated the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in North Platte in 1998 and served as its first president.
On the state level, he served on the State College System Board of Trustees and was a chairman of the Nebraska Humanities Council, Nebraska Public Radio Foundation, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission and the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Blackledge was known for his positive attitude, his advocacy for North Platte and west-central Nebraska, and his ability to write hard-hitting, thought-provoking editorials.
The small park has been envisioned since Blackledge died.
Trees and shrubs will be planted in coming weeks, Groseth said.