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Body recovered March 19, 2019 from Mississippi River near Hager City

Prescott's Freedom Park turns 90 with celebration this weekend

A drone shot from Dallas Eggers shows a birds-eye view of the Freedom Park and the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in Prescott. Photo courtesy of Dallas Eggers. 1 / 2
An archival photo of what was then known as Tourist Park, now Freedom Park, in Prescott along the Great River Road. Photo courtesy of Dallas Eggers, Pierce County Historical Association.2 / 2

Prescott's Dallas Eggers remembers relying on a handful of spots for a drink of water when he was a kid playing in the mid-'60s. There was the baseball diamond, the cemetery and what was then known as Tourist Park, now Freedom Park, which was only three blocks from his house.

"That was our playground," Eggers said, now president of the Prescott chapter of the Pierce County Historical Association.

This year, the park that has acted as a playground and family hotspot for generations of Prescott residents like Eggers officially turned 90, and the Friends of the Freedom Park organization are hosting a "birthday party" to commemorate the day. The Dec. 15-16 event is pairing birthday cake with a feedback opportunity that will help guide the group's future programming at the park and the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center, said the center's executive director Jessica Bierbrauer.

"We're a new organization, but we try to incorporate a little bit of self-reflection into what we do," she said.

Throughout the park's 90 years (it's actually been a city-owned property for 100 years) the park has gone through several iterations, including a patriotic and symbolic name change in the 1980s from Tourist Park to Freedom Park.

Happy birthday, Freedom

Prescott originally received the land for Freedom Park from a local family in about 1918 and was officially founded in 1928, Eggers said. Without funding, it took 10 years to create the park, he said.

The park eventually received a renovation in the late 50s or early 60s, he said. The main park building burned down, and a new half-wall building was made with electricity, fireplaces and running water, Eggers said.

"Some of the important things in town as a kid was where you could get a good drink of water," he said. "So you always stopped by Tourist Park to get a drink."

In the years that followed the park mostly fell out of the community's priorities, he said. When the push to rename it Freedom Park and rehabilitate it came along, many residents thought it was still well kept-up. But Eggers said that wasn't the case.

"A lot of people didn't want the development, but with anything you're either getting better or getting worse," he said. "You get this fixation in your head of this is what it was."

In 1982, the city renamed the park Freedom Park, after a local bald eagle named Freedom became something of a local celebrity, Bierbrauer said. The eagle was injured and treated at the University of Minnesota, and at about the same time, several American hostages were released from Iran.

Freedom was flown to Washington D.C. for a commemorative event for the hostages and other Americans missing in action or who were prisoners, she said. Freedom later returned to Prescott and was released back into the wild.

In honor of the eagle and what it represented, the city elected to change the name to Freedom Park.

"The eagle took on larger symbolism, you could say," Bierbrauer said.

Ever since the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center broke ground near the park in 2006, the group has put on a variety of programming, Bierbrauer said. They vary from educational events for kids to some catered towards adults.

Paired with Prescott's location on the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, and the wildlife that comes with it, the park can get a large number of visitors throughout the year. Bierbrauer said that about 15,000-16,000 or more people visit Freedom Park and the center every year.

"We're 12 years old, we're always trying to do something better," Bierbrauer said. "[The park] changes through the seasons; it's beautiful."

However, she knows there are numerous other ways for people to spend their time instead of at the park and participating in the center's programming.

With the planned birthday party coming up next weekend, she's hoping the cake can help prompt a conversation among attendees that leads to improved programming.

"We're just hoping that people will stop in and enjoy some birthday cake, and enter in some conversations," Bierbrauer said.

Freedom Park's 90th birthday party will be held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 15 and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 16. There will be cake, opportunities to give feedback on the park's programming and a 25 percent sale on gift shop items.

To learn more about the park, visit www.freedomparkwi.org.