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Handicapped accessible pier to be built in Kent Park

JOHNSON COUNTY– One long-time Johnson County family will memorialize their father and help many future park users for years to come.
The family of Leon Cooper had donated over $2,000 to aid in the construction of a handicapped-accessible fishing pier to be built on the 27-acre lake at F.W. Kent Park near Oxford.
Leon H. Cooper, born in 1918, was into conservation before conservation was cool. Leon worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States, at Beeds Lake St. Park near Hampton, Iowa. The CCC was responsible for renewing the nation’s forests nationwide by planting nearly 3 billion trees, constructing more than 800 parks, updating forest fire fighting methods, and building a network of public roadways in remote areas.
Leon passed away on April 18, 2011, and his family wanted to preserve his memory by adding a personal touch to one of the natural areas he loved. This past May, son Paul Cooper and daughter Susan asked if they could donate a bench or a memorial tree in honor of their parents, to be located at Kent Park, their favorite picnicking spot. While visiting the park with Johnson County Conservation Director Harry Graves, Paul asked Graves what else he dreamed for the park.
Through that conversation, Graves and Cooper crafted the idea for the handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
Graves researched potential designs for the project by studying piers located in other parks. He also garnered some valuable first-hand advice from his brother-in-law, who is paraplegic. Preliminary plans are for a 25 ft. by 35 ft. pier, with a fish cleaning station consisting of a stainless steel sink top and a simple cistern system. The pier will be covered so people can fish in the shade during hot summers and also access a center opening in the pier for winter ice fishing.
On July 20, during their regular meeting, Graves told the County Conservation Board that the department already has much of the material that could be used for the pier, including trusses from the county’s defunct armory building and potential lumber from fallen trees.
“It’s a great opportunity to use recycled materials,” said Graves. “We’d be building for the future using materials from the past.” Another cost-saving measure would be for Conservation Department staff to do much of the construction.
Graves noted there is a shallow shelf in the water at the planned location, which will require dredging an area of 50 ft. by 50 ft.
The Conservation Board members voted 3-0, with two members absent, to direct Graves to proceed with estimates on costs for pile driving for placement of the footings and dredging the lake at the site. The project will likely appear on the department’s fiscal year 2013 budget, with construction starting in July 2012.
Graves and the board thanked the family of Leon Cooper for their gift. Leon’s wife, Portia, said many people were ultimately responsible for helping to make it happen, the family created a donation opportunity at Leon’s memorial service.
“People were very interested and excited about it,” said Portia. “People made contributions to this that didn’t make contributions to the church.” Ultimately, $1,000 in donations were given, and the Cooper family made a personal match in that amount.
“It will be located where Mr. Cooper used to fish,” noted Graves. “The family’s generosity is pretty impressive.”