City property dubbed ‘Freedom Park’ by first grade class

The 75 acres of woods and trails off Gun Club Road in Oak Harbor have a new name.

The 75 acres of woods and trails off Gun Club Road in Oak Harbor, once informally called the Harbor Heights Sports Complex, have a new name, chosen by a first-grade class and approved unanimously by the city council.

Mrs. Maddison Nuqui and Mrs. Ashly Sheperd’s first grade class at Oak Harbor Elementary School came up with the name, “Freedom Park,” as their school mascot is the eagle, said Principal Christina Merritt at a recent council meeting. The students have a strong affiliation to the symbolism of freedom associated with their mascot as well as the military-supported community and family members who serve.

The park is right across the street from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and service members have offered to volunteer to help maintain the park.

Several of Nuqui’s first graders, Sophie, Ayla, Jimmy, Jack and Carson, attended the meeting and said in unison into the microphone, “We picked the name Freedom Park because we will be free to play there whenever we want.”

The title came from a competition during the city’s celebration of Arbor Day on April 26, where all the classes generated names.

“I occasionally get calls from neighborhood groups that want to rename a park,” said Brian Smith, parks and rec director. “Usually parks that are named after maybe a prominent resident from decades ago, and they want to rename it something more fun or interesting or maybe represents their community or a shared value or something broadly more interesting or creative than a memorial name and the nominations by the Oak Harbor Elementary School students definitely delivered on that.”

A few of the runners-up included Hot Wheels Park, the Big Bang, All-Star Park, Slippery Squirrel Park and Whidbey Wonderland.

As part of the resolution passed by the council, a planned educational nature trail will be named Slippery Squirrel Trail, as inspired by Mr. Woodard’s third grade class.

During the competition, the class was reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and discussing how Willy Wonka uses alliteration to name his candy. Of several alliterative suggestions, Slippery Squirrel made the top of the list.

Before the final decision, Mayor Pro Tem Tara Hizon added, “I didn’t go through all of them, but I suspect that this is the first time the city’s ever passed a resolution that includes the words ‘Slippery Squirrel,’ and I’m pretty excited about it.”

Freedom Park, with a disc golf course and walking trails, will be open to the public soon, Smith said.