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Upgrades Coming to Epworth Park in Bethesda

File Photo “Captain Jim” Ellis leads children on a treasure hunt at the Epworth Park Festival in Bethesda last May. The event, including inflatables, cookouts and vendors booths, was held to raise funds to pave the trail through the park.

The village of Bethesda is paving the way for residents to have a better place to enjoy outdoor recreation.

Epworth Park, also known as the Garden of Oaks, in the center of Bethesda is in the process of upgrading and paving its walking trail and replacing bridges on the trail that cross the park lake. Village officials have obtained grants for the park, including one from the EQT Foundation in the amount of $25,000 to go toward paving the trail. The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley awarded $5,000 for paving the trail and bridge replacement, while an Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant gave the village $22,798 for bridge replacement. Another grant was obtained through the office of state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, for $20,000 for paving the trail.

Rick Burkhead, fiscal officer for the village, said the bridge replacements are estimated to cost $29,900, while the price tag for trail paving the trail will be $46,700. Wilson Blacktop Corp. of Martins Ferry will be doing the paving.

The current bridges in the park were built in the 1980s and are starting to show wear and tear, according to Village Administrator Dirk Davis. He said the new bridges will be handicap accessible, making them available for more residents to use.

Davis added that a few other improvements are being planned for the park, such as resurfacing the basketball court, rehabilitating the baseball field, paving the parking lot and installing a pitching machine at the baseball field.

“We are hoping to have this project really moving forward when the weather breaks. If we have any money left over from the project, we are wanting to make a few more additions. We had also talked about putting another shelter on the right side of the park, too. It can be rented out or used for different things,” Davis said.

“We are also looking at some other grants. One that we are looking into right now is from JB Green Team for park benches and tables. This is good for the community, because people will have somewhere to go that is safe and reliable for recreation. It’s not only for Bethesda, though. It can be a place for surrounding communities as well.”

Mayor Martin Lucas and Davis gave credit for the efforts to the village’s park board, but members of the board were not available for comment. Davis said this project would not be moving along if not for the work of board members James Ellis, Debbie Mason and Joni Davis, the village administrator’s wife.

‘This has been in the works for about three years now. It is the crown jewel of our village,” Lucas said. “It really is such as beautiful place. The cottages have been there for years, and it’s always been a place that many people in our community enjoy. I have to give credit to the park board. They have been great. I especially want to say that Dirk and Joni Davis have been great in our community.”

In October, a gun bash was held to benefit the park and raised $23,500. A community festival that featured food, games and prizes was also held at the park in May to raise money for the project. Many other fundraising efforts are in the works for the future, according to village officials.

The annual Epworth Park Chautauqua Homecoming Days is also planned for July 13-14 and will feature activities for all ages, food, music, a parade and much more.

Epworth Park was established in 1870 as a Methodist campground. Horse-drawn wagons and trains carried as many as 10,000-15,000 people to camp meetings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to its website. With the park’s rising popularity, cottages were built in the late 1800s to serve as a retreat for people who wanted to escape city life. In the early 1900s, the camp meetings were replaced by the Chautauqua movement, a national movement that began at the Methodist retreat on Chautauqua Lake, New York. The Chautauqua assemblies attracted the most famous actors, musicians, and lecturers of the time.

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