By. K.D. Norris
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport’s celebrated the $1.1 million renovation of its viewing area with a grand opening May 31 where a big crowd heard about the commitment of the airport management — including to making the facility as safe as it is scenic — and the involvement of community donors to the park.
But, like the visceral thrill of watching a big jet airplane take off or land, the new facility will be viewed in very personal terms by two very different people.
Jennifer Zirkle will always see the park as the place where her autistic son James really began to interact with the world. And David Bottrall, whose family foundation made a substantial contribution to the Cascade Community Foundation’s fundraising effort for the project, will always see the park — and its restroom facilities — as a grand memory of his father.
This story was part of a WKTV Newscast now on YouTube; to view it go here.
‘Life changing’ event for youth
Zirkle, who spoke to the crowd and then to WKTV after the event, said viewing airport activities from the old park was a “life-changing” moment in her son’s life.
“My son was diagnosed with autism at 2-1/2, he is now six. At three he still had no words,” she said. “In July of 2014, he was 3-1/2 and we came to drop my mother off at the airport for a vacation, we ended up coming out here and he just got so excited, seeing the airplanes, he wanted to come back.
“When we did, he said ‘airplanes’ and I said ‘Oh my gosh, he just said something.’ It has been absolutely amazing that the airplanes, watching them, has actually brought him out. … It sparked something in his little brain that said ‘It is its for me to express myself.’ That was a big catalyst for him. He wanted to share, he wanted to learn more. It brought him out into the world.”
A father and son moment
Bottrall, with his mother Joyce S. Wisner, was present at the park opening representing the Tassell Wisner Bottrall Foundation, a major contributor to the park project. However, he will likely always view the park as a special place, a special moment spent with his deceased father, Thomas Wisner
“My father, Thom Wisner, was fascinated with the subject (of aviation), he had a lifelong desire to learn to fly helicopters,” Bottrall said. “It was a dream he was not able to check off his bucket list, before he died of pancreatic cancer 2-1/2 years ago.
“But shortly before he passed away, he sat under a tent during a fundraising status event for this park an out of the blue, spontaneously, he gave another gift to this project. This time for the restrooms. He so badly wanted to see this park built, he knew how much fun it is to just sit here. I also think he knew that these restrooms would make him the most popular person in the park several times a day.”
Safety and security in design
With the park offering one of the closest view of a major airport runways in the country, it will also offer new visitors the ability to have their own personal stories associated with the park.
And while airport CEO Jim Gill is proud of the new facility and its ability to give viewers outstanding visual access, he also is proud of the safety and security measures that were a key part of the design by Mathison & Mathison Architects.
“This location opened in 1995 and it has been a favorite among folks in the community and aviation enthusiasts. … We hope we can continue to be part of creating memories,” Gill said. “Interesting fact, the viewing park you are sitting at not is actually the closest viewing park to any active commercial runway in the united states.”
But, Gill told WKTV. “At the airport, our number one goal is always safety and security. If we are not safe and secure, we are not much of anything else.”
The renovation of the park started in 2016, and it not only brings a covered viewing facility and restrooms to the location but increases the parking available from 56 to 104 spaces, and adds space for four buses.
“This is all because of the efforts of our partners (in the project), who we could not have done without, the Cascade Community Foundation, we want to thank you for your fundraising efforts and your continuing efforts. … and also airport board.”