CRESTVIEW — One of the city’s little-known gems, the McMahon Environmental Center, is tucked away on two and a half acres off Mapoles Street, in the shadow of a state forestry fire observation tower.

CRESTVIEW — One of the city’s little-known gems, the McMahon Environmental Center, is tucked away on two and a half acres off Mapoles Street, in the shadow of a state forestry fire observation tower.

The park is a destination for local Boy and Girl Scouts, Crestview Public Library kids groups and students from area schools.

However, the McMahon Center is also one of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department’s most underused facilities.

The Kiwanis Club wants to change that.

“What we would like to do is take it on as a project for our club,” Kiwanis Club Public Service Committee chairperson Jim Lundy said. “There are some really nice things on this property. The museum has some really good things there.”

Named in honor of retired forester John McMahon, the center and the Kiwanis have been intertwined over the years. The club sponsored a Boy Scout troop at the park, and helped maintain the park until the state turned the facility over to the city.

The center is unique among the city’s parks. Its mission is purely educational: to teach park users about the region’s native flora and fauna.

The center contains more than 100 native trees, each labeled for identification; a fishpond; and a butterfly garden built as a project by Girl Scout Yvonne Masters. The park’s small museum contains exhibits about area animal and aquatic life, and local forestry traditions and industry. Its open-air pavilion is used for educational programs and kids’ picnics.

Local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts periodically visit the center. Nearby, at the foot of the tower, is a former scout hut, once a forester’s cabin, from the days when a Kiwanis-sponsored Boy Scout troop was based at the park. In December, Jacob Somers, an Eagle Scout candidate with Troop 773, produced new identification plates for the trees, McMahon said.

“There have been several Eagle projects there over the years,” Boy Scout area Unit Commissioner Rae Schwartz said. “It’s a great facility for the community. Our scouts would be happy to work with the Kiwanis on enhancing it.”

McMahon said he was encouraged by the Kiwanis offer and looks forward to working with the club to enhance the center and attract more visitors.

“There are so many possibilities there,” he said. “I can see some they haven’t even thought of it yet.”

Lack of staff at the park is one reason it is underused, McMahon said. Though retired, he frequently serves as a guide through the environmental center when groups visit.

“The city is fairly limited in manpower and they don’t have many people trained in environmental subjects,” he said, adding foresters would make ideal partners with the park’s redevelopment. “We have contacts in many areas and we could get specialists in many subjects to come over to the park and do presentations.”

“The Kiwanis has historically been involved with building parks and recreational facilities,” Lundy said. “In the big picture, the goal was to make (the McMahon Center) more user-friendly to the public so that the public would come to use it.”

Speaking before the Crestview City Council at its Jan. 14 meeting, Lundy said when his committee prepared to visit the park prior to preparing their offer to the city, only two members knew where it was located.

The site’s potential is almost limitless, he said.

“One of the problems we have right now is we don’t know exactly what we can do,” he said.

The club wants the community’s input on how to enhance the park, and would undertake coordination of fundraising to enhance the facility, Lundy said.

“We would take surveys of what community would like to see as a use for the property,” Lundy said. “We see it as basically recreational and educational.”

Councilwoman Robyn Helt praised the Kiwanis Club for its offer. At the recommendation of city attorney Jerry Miller, she moved to direct city staff to work with the club as it formulated a plan for the park. Helt’s motion passed unanimously.

“We are going to take this one step at a time,” Lundy said. “The Kiwanis is not looking to do this by ourselves. We’re looking for other organizations to partner with.

“The next thing is to put together a more formal plan and present it to the city.”

Want to go?

The McMahon Environmental Center is at 130 Butler Circle, off Mapoles Street. The park grounds are always open. Call the Crestview Parks and Recreation Department, 682-4715, ext. 123, to visit the museum by appointment. John McMahon, retired forester and the park’s namesake, is often available to guide groups around the park.

Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.

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