CRESTVIEW -- More than 40 residents gathered Feb. 22 to share hotdogs, hamburgers and many ideas about ways to refurbish the McMahon Environmental Center.

CRESTVIEW Yvonne Shanklin would love to see the McMahon Environmental Center become a place where she can introduce her five grandchildren to outdoor movies.

Joyce Heath said she has enjoyed several family celebrations beneath the trees and would like to see more families make similar memories.

Wanda and Mark Hulion just want to pitch in and help make the park more attractive to draw more people.

They were among 40 residents who gathered on Saturday to share hotdogs, hamburgers and many ideas about ways to refurbish the center.

A Kiwanis project

The Crestview Kiwanis Club has taken on planning and fundraising for refurbishing the park, which retired forester John McMahon, the center's founder, said was the first arboretum of native trees in Okaloosa County.  

Among residents' suggestions were:

Replacing the dilapidated museum a former forester's cabin with an outdoor amphitheater for lectures, nature presentations, small concerts, plays and outdoor movies

Replacing the landmark fire tower and hut with a new, state-of-the-art museum, education and meeting facility, including an exhibit on Boy and Girl Scouts' contributions to the park

Putting a playground, adult shuffleboard court and community swimming pool in the fenced-in area currently used to store parade barricades and derelict city-owned cars.

Preserving history

Demolishing the 1949 fire tower and current museum met with some residents' opposition.

"The tower is one of the landmarks of this city," Councilman Joe Blocker said.

Jayne Swift of the wastewater management company CH2MHill, which is partnering with the Kiwanis Club, said restoring the fire tower "would take all the funds we can budget for the whole site." A private company has offered to demolish the tower at no cost in exchange for the scrap metal's salvage rights.

Several scouts and Venture Crew members had considered museum renovation projects, Boy Scout Unit Commissioner Rae Schwartz said.

However, "They are limited by the Guide to Safe Scouting," she said. "Because of the asbestos (exterior wall shingles) and lead paint, there's very little they can do."

In addition, the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kiwanis project chairman Jimmy Lundy said.

No trees to be lost

No trees would be lost in the final proposal, Swift said.

"The trees are what made this place," she said.

McMahon praised CH2MHill for its involvement, saying "they believe in the principle of environmental education."

The flow of public suggestions the Kiwanis committee has received "is contagious," Swift said. "I'm hearing ideas that take us down whole different paths I never considered."

Have a suggestion?

Crestview Kiwanis Club members and city officials welcome public suggestions for refurbishing the McMahon Environmental Center. Submit ideas to Jim Lundy, or Betsy Roy,

Email News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes, follow him on Twitter or call 850-682-6524.