Lebanon community divided over the future of Nelson Park

LEBANON, Mo.-- A community is divided after a park was sold to a major manufacturer.

White River Marine group, part of Tracker Boats, owned by Bass Pro Shops will soon own Nelson Park in Lebanon, clearing the way for an expansion.

At Monday nights city council meeting, heated words for and against the idea of selling the remaining portion of the park. It was given as a gift by the Nelson family to Lebanon in the 1960's. Officials says it's good for the future of the city, others say the town is losing it's history.

"I think that if people were informed this divide may not have occurred and we could be on the same page on this," said Bill Benson.

He is against the idea of selling the park.

Richard Gilbert thinks selling the park is a good idea.

"For the citizens of this town to say that it was done underhandedly or behind closed doors is not true," he said.

City administrator, Mike Schumacher said, "We followed all laws and processes for meetings and discussions that took place on this real estate transaction."

Just about everyone in Lebanon has an opinion about the fate of Nelson Park.

"Every amenity that's in the existing Nelson Park is going to be found in our parks systems so there's really no loss," explained Schumacher.

He said he understands that for some the loss is difficult.

"It was not a decision that was taken lightly," he said.

Danielle Freeman, who is part of the Nelson family said she's heartbroken.

"It is a huge part of our history," said Freeman. "Just to see it turned into a factory after being given as a gift, we never anticipated that the city would consider selling a gift."

It's why she and many others flocked to the city council meeting Monday night.

"I just want you to know that the whole family is not for this," said Freeman.

Accusations against council members started flying.

"I understand the rumor control says that this council may have been, what, blackmailed, said Judith Smith.

Joshua Scheer said, "This ladies and gentlemen proves that you are for sale. Add a subsidiary of White River Marine to the bottom of the Lebanon sign."

However, not everyone agrees. Gilbert said he keeps tabs on council agendas. He said the sale of Nelson Park was published in advance.

"You can't show up here and voice your opinions," he said. "You have no right to whine."

Despite the situation, the city is hopeful.

"It's a great project moving forward," said Schumacher. "We look forward to it all while supporting our largest employer."

As are some of those against the idea of losing one of their town's treasures.

"We understand it's probably too late for Nelson park but it may not be too late for the other historic sites in this area," explained Freeman.

Officials said the pond at the current Nelson Park may remain open allowing everyone to continue fishing. However, that will be up to the new owners.

The sale will become official in just a few weeks.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.