Harlingen taps Arroyo Park, rec center for grants

Cyclists and walkers split the trail Friday, March 24, 2023, on a section of the Harlingen Arroyo Hike and Bike Trails in Arroyo Park. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
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HARLINGEN — One of the busiest sites along the Arroyo Colorado’s Hike and Bike Trail might be in for a $1 million overhaul while officials push for a study into plans to build Harlingen’s first indoor recreational center.

At City Hall, officials are applying to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for a grant to fund a proposed $945,759 project aimed at upgrading Arroyo Park while requesting the agency also help fund a feasibility study into development of a recreational center at Pendleton Park.

As they review their priority list, officials are also mulling other funding sources to help transform Gutierrez Park from a crime area into a family-themed town square.

Out of the city’s 24 parks, officials are picking Arroyo Park for a grant of up to $750,000, noting its location along the waterway could help it land state funding.

“It seems like (it’s) one that gets the most use from my view,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda told the audience at a June 28 meeting. “Arroyo Park is right smack in the middle of a neighborhood, so it serves a great population.”

During discussion, Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, told commissioners Parks and Wildlife officials have expressed support for the project.

“They really liked (it) a lot because we’re connecting to a natural resource, which is the arroyo, to an existing trail that connects several parks,” he said, referring to the Hike and Bike Trail.

The project at the site of the city’s mountain bike trail system that’s turning Harlingen into a cycling destination calls for construction of covered bleachers, a sheltered picnic area, field lighting, a bicycle repair station and an irrigation system along with the renovation of basketball courts, a backstop and a playground.

“There are always families out at Arroyo Park,” Sepulveda said. “Every time I’ve been to Arroyo Park there have been kids there playing.”

After about two hours of debate, commissioners picked Arroyo Park after mulling projects including plans calling for a $505,309 upgrade of C.B. Wood Park and a $1 million makeover of McKelvey Park.

Officials are also requesting a Parks and Wildlife grant of up to $1.5 million to help fund a feasibility study into a plan to build an indoor recreational center next to Pendleton Park’s swimming pool complex.

While calling for an indoor recreational area to help beat the summer heat, Sepulveda proposed building the center on city-owned land.

So far, Mendez hasn’t determined the project’s estimated cost.

The plan to transform Gutierrez Park into what Sepulveda described as a “vibrant town square” is ranking high on City Hall’s priority list.

Amid discussion, Ana Hernandez, the special projects director overseeing the city’s grant writing program, said she’s reviewing prospective grants to help fund the project.

“I think there are other grants that maybe more fitting for the needs of Gutierrez Park,” she told commissioners.

During a public hearing, Alexandra Peralta, who owns a store fronting the park on Harrison Avenue, requested commissioners take on the project.

“We do have a prostitution problem, we do have a drug problem, we do have a fighting problem,” she said from the podium. “This is a high crime area. This is a very neglected area of Harlingen. We cannot give up on this park. We need to figure out a solution.”

The city’s proposed $1.8 million project calls for development of a stage, pickleball courts, picnic areas, lighting and a water feature.