What was once a dream will soon be a reality for local radio-controlled vehicle enthusiasts in Harvey County, as the R/C Park at East Lake is set to open to the public this weekend.
Members of the Harvey County Radio Control Club will welcome patrons to the new R/C Park (a joint effort with the Parks Department) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27 and 28, offering use of the facilities at East Lake — northeast of the Bluestem bathrooms — for the first time.
"It's kind of like the next disc golf. This is the next big hobby in my opinion. This could get a huge draw," said parks director Kass Miller. "There's really nothing that I'm aware of in the vicinity that allows R/C pilots, rock crawlers and just a wide variety of different R/C vehicles to come out and practice their hobby in one space."
Construction on the park amenities began last October and Harvey County Radio Control Club president Joe Owen noted the group is putting the finishing touches on them this week.
Features established in preparation for the grand opening include a runway for planes and a crawler course for ground vehicles. Whereas pilots will be required to be registered and insured through the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the crawler course will be open to the public — and R/C drivers are welcomed to come out for a "social crawl" on the grand opening weekend.
Registered pilots are also welcome to come try out the new amenities and fly their planes, though it was noted a flight schedule may need to be created depending on how much interest there is in using the new runway space. Special demonstration flights are currently slated as part of the grand opening festivities and will take place either every hour or half hour (depending on participation) from noon to 2 p.m. April 27. Demonstrations may include 3-D aerobatics, pattern acrobatics, scale war birds, etc. Floating planes will also be welcomed to take off from the lake from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Other activities planned for the grand opening include a vendor swap meet both days, while a gourmet hot dog food truck will be on site Saturday. There will also be a raffle for a crawler truck and an airplane, with the drawing to be held at 5 p.m. April 27, and those who come out will also get to see some of the work that went into preparing part of the park.
"There will also be folks who are actually building on the course so folks can see the process for how these guys come up with the trails and different obstacles that they build for the crawlers, so there's going to be active building going on for the crawler course on Saturday," Owen said.
While the county is taking a wait-and-see approach with the R/C Park before adding additional features, there are plans for phase two of construction to include a drone and R/C car racing track (while a designated zone for R/C boats — which will be welcomed on opening weekend — was also broached in the initial proposal).
Phase one for the R/C Park, Miller said, has been extended to December 2020 to allow the club to schedule more events (fly-ins, crawler competitions, etc.), but the hope is to expand and bring in an even greater variety of activities if it proves successful.
Owen admitted that can be a bit stressful, knowing that future development depends on how well the R/C Park is received initially, but seeing the first features become open to the public is something both he and Miller are excited about.
"To actually have it operational ... and have that open and almost checked off the list, it's a good sense of accomplishment," Owen said.
"I think we're getting in on the cutting edge of the hobby. I think it's growing and it will continue to grow. People are looking for different and interesting things to get outside. It involves the technology that everyone's into nowadays, but it brings them outside to utilize it as well," Miller said. "It's just a good mix of what the future looks like, in my opinion."
Grand opening festivities will start at 9 a.m. April 27. After that, normal R/C Park hours will be from sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset each day. For more information on the grand opening event, check the Harvey County Parks Facebook page.