Ascarate Park boasts 420 acres of potential.
El Paso County leaders the past few years have invested in improving some of its features and facilities, but are now looking to turn the aging park into a regional attraction.
“This Ascarate concept has to be powerful and ignited, and it has to be organic,” said County Judge Ricardo Samaniego last month as he led a group of El Pasoans on a walking tour to showcase the park’s future plans. “This means our people need to make this happen, we all need to sell this park. I hope that when you leave here you have the excitement to go out and tell people what you saw,” he said.
The walking tour was the first of many the county plans to have as part of unveiling the community-based vision for the park at 6900 Delta, nestled between the César E. Chávez Border Highway and Fonseca Drive.
David Stout, County Comissioner for Precinct 2, said he was eager to revive the park after being elected in 2015.
“This place is near and dear to my heart. When I came onto Commissioners Court, this park was in shambles,” he said. “We sat down with strategic planning and we asked, ‘Do we want to be in the parks’ business or not?’ If we want to be in the parks’ business, we have to take it seriously, and invest.”
During the past four years, Stout said, the county has invested about $5 million for a series of improvements ranging from improvements in the swimming facility, administration building, restrooms, picnic areas, the golf course, as well as buying a boat that helps employees remove unwanted lake vegetation.
But the master plan seeks to dramatically escalate investment, forging public-private partnerships, grants, bond items, and strategic funding to raise between $70 million and $90 million to transform Ascarate Park into a central hub of fairs, concerts and outdoor activities that engage the varied interests of the region.
An amphitheater is planned, paths and roads will be redesigned, and a complete overhaul of the area is expected to be done to maximize its entertainment capacity, county officials said.
The completed plan should be presented to the Commissioners Court and the public in the coming months, then ways to fund the project would be explored.
Ascarate Park has a long history in El Paso.
It began as a natural loop of the Rio Grande and was deeded to El Paso County after the International Boundary Commission straightened the river in the early 1930s. This left more than 400 acres of land – and a 450-acre lake – to be managed by the county for the recreation.
Officially opening in 1940, Ascarate Park has been known primarily for its lake, golfing, picnics and Western Playland Amusement Park – the popular entertainment destination that opened in there in 1960 and relocated to Sunland Park, New Mexico, in 2006.
Luis Suira, a 26-year-old El Pasoan who joined the walking tour as part of a community-engagement initiative named Progress 321, said he was pleased to see the interest the county government had in the park.
“I haven’t been here since I was a kid,” he said. “Western Playland was the whole reason to come here. From what I hear, the whole place was in ruins for a while. So it makes me proud to see that they are putting in the work for the community.”
Playground & garden
A top attraction of the park will be a 35,000-square-foot all-abilities playground that is designed for special-needs families.
This playground was spearheaded by El Paso nonprofit Moms on Board, which established a matching-funds arrangement with the county and Texas Parks and Wildlife to bring the idea to Ascarate Park.
“We love Ascarate Park as the location for it,” said Leyla Zeidan Safa, co-founder of the nonprofit. “It has the lake, it has the greenery, and we really like that it is central.”
Samaniego singled out one aspect of the park as particularly meaningful: The Healing Gardens. This portion of land is set aside as a tribute to the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at the East Central El Paso Walmart.
“The victims are the centerpiece here,” Samaniego said as he stood outside the future tribute, still early in its construction.
Trees planted previously by families of the victims stood in one area, and paths with seating ran alongside a protective wall surrounding the site.
“We don’t want them to have died in vain.”