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Public turns out to begin making memories at Wichita photo park

As published in the Wichita Eagle, December 13, 2014
Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker

Two-year-old Landon McCarthy patted one of the seats on a bright yellow tandem bicycle secured into the ground in the newly opened Memories Park, a cozy, quiet place where families can go to take photos with props against the backdrop of Sedgwick County Park.

“Sit!” his little voice chimed to his mom, Melissa McCarthy, as he turned his chin up and grinned.

She, her husband, Travis, and their nephew 8-year-old Ewan Phillips gathered around the bike for a series of snapshots with the toddler.

Melissa McCarthy said she plans to turn the photos into Christmas gifts for extended family and friends.

“Our son is 2, and I keep telling myself that I should hire someone to take photos,” McCarthy said.

The park “is really cute” and an ideal place to create family memories, she said.

Though it officially opened on a drizzly day, Memories Park by noon Saturday already had about a dozen visitors who posed for photographs with a series of backdrops installed along a path on the west side of Sedgwick County Park, 6501 W. 21st St.

The park – featuring fences, a vintage truck, a hay wagon and other props – is a gift from Together Wichita 2014, a communitywide initiative involving 22 local businesses and organizations striving to showcase the people and places that make Wichita special.

“Our vision for the park, the vision of Together Wichita 2014, was to be an opportunity for our community to come out and get great family pictures and to make lasting photographic memories in just one place,” said Ben Jennings, who is associated with the initiative and is director of events and marketing at The Eagle.

“There are a lot of great places to take photos in Wichita, but we wanted one place that was kind of centralized. …We’re confident that it will be used far into the future.”

In addition to Memories Park, Together Wichita 2014 is also responsible for the “I live here, I love it” campaign and the Keepers on Parade project, which is scheduled for unveiling during the Final Friday art event in January.

Kim Nussbaum, president and publisher of The Eagle and one of Together Wichita 2014’s sponsors, said the group will continue working on community projects through 2015 and perhaps beyond that.

“I can see Memories Park being used by prom groups and for graduation photos and engagement pictures and just for family pictures in general,” Nussbaum said.

“I think it will have a wide array of usage.”

For Aurora Nava, a grandmother of 12, the props lend a “pretty and special” feel to the path she walks daily. She said her favorite is the old Chevrolet truck.

On Saturday, for the park’s opening, a Christmas wreath hung from its grille, and wrapped packages filled its bed.

“It’s retro. It’s from years past,” Nava said in Spanish as she was walking by the truck. “It’s really pretty.”

A retired Army veteran named Bryan, who declined to give his last name, who also walks through Sedgwick County Park for his daily exercise, called the path with its new additions “a place to reflect.”

“People take pictures here all the time, like wedding pictures and stuff like that,” he said while he stood beside a nearly 9-foot-high, bright blue Adirondack chair built by Bob Goebel, a retired executive vice president from Star Lumber’s retail division.

“It’s great.”

Flo Smart and Melisa Frost were the first people to make photographic memories in the park after its grand opening. The women smiled wide and joked when they slipped their arms around Santa Claus and posed for snapshots beneath a wooden arbor.

“It’s a great place to take photos. I’m really excited that the sponsors put something like this together,” Frost said.

“It’s definitely an asset to Wichita.”