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Restored Park Could Benefit Lewisburg

The last playground structures that made up Father Henry Hanses Park in Covington's Lewisburg neighborhood were removed in August 2012.

At the time, city officials told The River City News that safety concerns and the condition of the equipment prompted the removal. "There have been a few fires on the play equipment over the years and we removed the damaged play equipment and are currently searching for a more fire-resistant alternative," then-Parks & Recreation Director Natalie Gardner said at the time. 

Fr. Hanses Park was the topic of a presentation at Covington City Hall last week. Its restoration could benefit the people of Lewisburg and the city at large, said Marsha Bach of the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

"It's a small, green oasis in the middle of a crowded urban area," Bach said.

The health department and some partners scored grant money and spent nine months analyzing the impact that the park had and could have again. A rehabilitated Fr. Hanses Park would be an important effort in a neighborhood cut off from much of the city, Bach said.

With 450 buildings, the earliest of which were constructed in the 1840s, and more than a thousand residents, Lewisburg is densely populated. Throughout its history, however, it has been a challenge for its residents to have full access to the rest of the city's amenities. It was originally separated by Willow Run Creek and was split even more by the construction of Interstate 75.

"It decreases the wakability and accessibility to grocery stores and creates barriers to residents to access other Covington parks," Bach said.

The park, at 11th & Hermes Streets, was named for longtime St. John Catholic Church priest Father Henry Hanses in October 1997. For years it hosted movie nights, festivals, clean-up efforts, and block parties. "The park provided space for neighbors to socialize and meet each other," Bach said. The park suffered at the hands of vandals and arsonists in 2010 and 2011 and now only concrete slabs and mature trees exist on the site.

"The city now has a unique opportunity to revitalize this park as it is now a vacant lot," Back said. "There are few places for Lewisburg children to be active and for neighbors to be socially active."

Indeed, when the playground equipment was suddenly moved in August 2012, residents complained about the loss of the park. Nearby resident Dan Krebs said he couldn't remember any major fires at the park. "I do consistently recall parks & recreation complaining about maintaining it," Krebs told The River City News last year.  He expressed optimism at the time that the City would likely replace Hanses Park's equipment.

Resident Marisa Tucker also weighed in last year, noting that the removal of the park did not fix any problems with teenagers loitering. "If the problem is troublesome kids trashing the park, removing the playground equipment hasn't fixed anything," she said in August 2012. "At least with the park the kids congregated in one place. Now they have no central location and will be causing trouble throughout a much bigger, harder-to-patrol area."

Now, armed with $40,000 from its federal community development block grant funds, the City of Covington will set off on finding a new design for a restored park, said Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims.

That is important news not just for the neighbors that live immediately near it, but also for the more than 12,000 people who live within one mile of it.

"It could positively impact the health of Covington residents, reduce crime, increase social cohesion, and (with a rain garden or similar effort) improve flood issues," Bach said. The health impact analysis conducted by the health department also uncovered potential barriers that include a possible increase in vandalism and serving as a refuge for what Bach called illicit activities. The analysis examined how best to minimize those effects through design.

"The design of the park will determine the positive impact," Bach said. "If the park is not maintained it could return to its current state."

Sims said after a design is secured, it would be presented again to the city commission.

"I remember when the park originally opened and how positive it was and it's a shame to see what it came to," said City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. "If you replace it, it will be tremendous for this neighborhood."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Fr. Hanses Park in Lewisburg after equipment was removed in 2012/RCN file

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