Max Cohen plans to create a 17-acre sports park where military veterans and their families will be able to have a safe and fun time on land he owns south of Topeka, near Wakarusa.
The park is to include campsites; rental cabins; a nine-hole miniature golf course; a clubhouse, woodworking shop and metalworking shop; an “airport” for remote control planes; and an 8-acre lake offering fishing, rowboats, paddle boats, canoes and a racetrack for remote control boats.
Cohen, himself a veteran, is asking for donations from businesses and individuals to pay costs to develop the park on the 30-acre property where he lives at 1325 S.E. 85th, about 1 mile east and 1 mile south of Heartland Park Topeka.
“Please help us to say ‘Thank you’ to those who have served by giving them a place to enjoy and relax with their families,” he said Thursday.
Cohen said he’s raised about $4,000 of the $20,000 needed to finance the first phase of his four-part plan to create the park, which would be open only to veterans and their families.
He said his contractor, Duane Hug Trucking and Excavation, planned to start work this weekend aimed at eventually increasing the size of the pond on that property to 8 acres from its current size of about 1½.
“We need donations,” Cohen said. “I don’t want to have to put the cost on a credit card.”
Cohen, 63, gave a reporter and a photographer a tour of the property Thursday while outlining his plans.
“I’m getting old and my wife’s getting old,” Max Cohen said. “We might as well leave this to someone who can enjoy it.”
Cohen said he formerly operated a pig farm on the property with his business partner, Pedro Soliz, but those animals have been moved to the property where Soliz lives.
Cohen, who served in the Army from 1972 to 1979, said he and his wife, Veryl Cohen, have lived on their property about 10 years.
Cohen told of how he formed Heroes Memorial Sports Park, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, last February. The IRS in July certified all donations to the group as being tax-deductible.
The group’s charitable work so far has focused primarily on providing veterans food, which it has received through donations.
But work begins this weekend to expand the pond, with Cohen planning to have the improved version ready for use by next summer. The project’s first phrase also involves clearing more than 14 acres of land.
Cohen said he’s putting a lot of his own money toward developing the park, which has been in the works for about five years.
“I want it to be the best thing that’s ever happened to this area,” he said.
Use of the park is to be free to anyone who can prove they’re a veteran of the U.S. military, as well as their families. Those people are to be able to come and go as they please.
“Everyone here will have someone in common,” Cohen said. “They’ve all served.”
A gate would be used to control entry to the park, with initial plans calling for it be surrounded by a 10-foot-tall, chain-link fence. Security cameras would be used to monitor the lake and the park’s perimeter.
The lake would include a pier, which veterans using wheelchairs would be able to use to fish.
The hunting of geese and ducks by veterans would be permitted during hunting season in the park, though the firing of guns wouldn’t otherwise be allowed.
Cohen intends to put up a “Heroes Wall” in the park honoring all military members from this geographic area who lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a “Donation Wall” featuring plaques recognizing everyone who’s donated at least $100 to the sports park project.
“The bigger the donation, the bigger the plaque,” he said.
Cohen said he’s still seeking to acquire insurance for the park, and looking for veterans to serve on its four-person board of directors.
He encouraged anyone who wants more information or would like to donate to:
— Call him at (785) 220-8850.
— Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Mail donations to him at 1325 S.E. 85th, Wakarusa, KS 66546. Checks should be made out to “Heroes Memorial Sports Park Inc.”
— Mail donations in care of Capital City Bank, 3710 S.W. Topeka Blvd., Topeka, KS 66609.
— Or leave donations in a jar devoted to the project at Larry’s Shortstop, 3834 S.W. Topeka Blvd. That business has been his organization’s project’s primary donor, Cohen said.
Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.