After more than a decade of planning, work began Thursday on what will become the first state park dedicated to military veterans.
The North Carolina Veterans Park will cover 18.3 acres next to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. A $14 million state grant is paying for construction of the park, which is set for a grand opening on July 4, 2011.
Mayor Tony Chavonne said Fayetteville is the logical choice for the park because of the city's long military history, from battles in the Revolutionary War and Civil War to the support it provides for Fort Bragg.
“Throughout it all, this great state and this great city have stood tall in support of North Carolina’s veterans,” Chavonne said. "(We're) just a few miles from Green Ramp, where we see veterans returning from new places like Fallujah and Kandahar."
Edward Middleton, 90, fought in Europe in World War II. He said he looks forward to the day when he can walk through the park and reflect.
"Now that it's coming to fruition, I think it's marvelous," Middleton said.
Other veterans agreed that the veterans park is long overdue.
“It’s been a long time coming. We need this park,” said Stanley Richard, who was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in the 1970s. "We've got grandchildren that need a park like this, and to share memories and such with our friends and neighbors."
The park will be divided into three sections, honoring life before joining the military, time in the service and life after the service.
The park will include a 150-seat amphitheater, a tree-shaded walkway, pools and fountains, a flag court and a 3,500-square-foot visitors center. Plans also call for incorporating soil from all 100 North Carolina counties to reflect the homeland the veterans tried to protect, officials said.
"It's about providing a scenic place of beauty to reflect and relax," Chavonne said.