Turning trash into treasure: Dugan Best Park land was city dump before 1966 renovation

·2 min read

May 23—Originally acquired in 1941 for use as a city dump, the land where Dugan Best Park sits in Owensboro's West side was renovated in 1966 at the behest of Mayor Dugan Best.

While Best, who died in office in 1967, did not live long enough to see the 11-acre park completed, he did see the early stages of its transition.

On Nov. 11, 1966, Best reported to the city commission that work would begin in 10 days to clear and level the park area for recreational use. The Southtown Kiwanis Club proposed that the new park be named Dugan Best Memorial Park in honor of the late mayor.

According to an August 1941 column titled "Birdie's Breezy Bits" by L.D. "Birdie" Gasser, what was then the new dump cost the city $4,500. Gasser was not happy with the city's purchase of a second dump.

"This tract of land was recently purchased by the city because of the bitter complaint of the people who have to live within the vicinity of the old dump, which is located only 400 yards closer to the center of town," Gasser wrote. "It is a disgusting and disgraceful situation, a menace to health."

Today, that former "menace to health" features both a public green space and a community center that was added in 1973.

According to the book, "History, Owensboro Parks and Recreation," published in 1990 by Evan Ray Russell, R. Ben Johnson was the architect of the center and Higdon Construction Company offered the lowest bid of $178,000. Federal revenue sharing funds were used to build it, according to Ralph Rascoe, who was then the city finance director.

The Owensboro Junior League furnished playground equipment and trees for the park when it opened. Beautification workers re-landscaped the building and grounds in 1982.

Today, amenities at the park include a 0.4-mile paved walking trail, an open pavilion, picnic tables, tennis courts, softball field and basketball court. New playground equipment was added in May 2021.

"Dugan Best Park as a neighborhood park offers space for our citizens to get outdoors and be active," Parks Director Amanda Rogers said. "Being active in nature has been proven to improve physical and psychological health. Neighborhood parks help make our communities more attractive places to live and work."

Mike Gray, Recreation Center director, said the park and center are a safe place for neighborhood kids and families to spend time.

Gray remembered a girl that comes to the park with her mother who has trouble pronouncing Dugan Park, so she decided to give it her own name.

"I call it rainbow park out here," he said. "One of these ladies has a little girl, and that is the way she recognized it, as rainbow park, with all the bright colors. It tickled me that she said that."

The Dugan Best Recreation Center began operations in 1974.