As I walked with my daughter through Memorial Park this past week, I took the short tour through what is now North Platte’s premier water park when an older couple stopped their vehicle near us. The gentleman rolled his window down and asked, “Is that the new water deal?” I responded, “Yes. Not very big is it?” He shook his head slowly, rolled his window up and drove away.
His reaction mirrored my own. When I think about all the fighting, all the council meetings and all the controversy that surrounded this tiny patch of fun, it got me angry. I must, however, say thank you to Judy Pederson and others who at least got this far with the notion that kids should be allowed to have fun here too. The bottom line is, in my opinion, North Platte does not do enough for their children.
I was a child here and I fondly remember W.C. Franks (now an insurance company), the old Adventureland Fun Center (now a medical supply store) and I wonder- where have we gone wrong? The problem is, the people who have comfortably lived here for years have seen progress; progress in the form of new banks, retirement communities, golf courses, bars and shopping centers. John Newburn left money for the parks here in good old NP, a huge sum of which was sunk into a flood-prone golf course that is floundering to stay alive. All while the old sticks-in-the-mud around here get mad because some people have the audacity to try and put in a fun water park for the kids.
Go to Kearney sometime and visit Yanney Park. That’s what a FREE water park should be. There are tons of things for kids to do in Kearney- updated fun centers, numerous parks with updated equipment, several Frisbee golf courses, and more. It’s a progressive town with progressive thinking. Amazing that they have grown exponentially and we continue to crawl along. If my history is correct, the location for Kearney State College was between NP and Kearney. Could you imagine where we might be if we had snapped up that jewel at the time?
So here’s what North Platte has to offer- a school system that plays musical chairs with its principals, a nearly non-existent program for high achievers and learners, a dilapidated library, a four year degree accessible only through online courses, constant appearances by child molesters, abusers, crack heads and drunks in the Post’s Hot Sheets, a 15 X 20 water pad (imagine how packed that will be when kids come to it this summer), a 30 year old bowling alley, a nearly unaffordable movie theater (except on Tuesdays), and a skate park that the kids are pretty much having to raise the money for themselves. And this town wonders why the young people always go away or end up in trouble.
Wise up North Platte- nurture your seeds. THEY are the future. Not your nearest banking institution pumping more money into industry and not the retirement “hotels” filling up with all the local naysayers. If you expect the kids to ever give back to their hometown, you should give them something first. Make them feel welcome, not like outsiders- squeezing them into the tiniest, far-reaching places you can.
But hey, look at the bright side; if you don’t take my advice, at least you have a shiny new jail to stick them in when they turn to drugs and crime just to have something to do. It saddens me to see where this town is headed.
Geno Verdez is the author of “Welcome to Nebraska,” available at A-Z Books.