Hurricane Valley Foundation improves the valley; memorializes child lost, Jada Harris

LA VERKIN – Four months ago, the town of La Verkin was left stunned by the tragic drowning of 2-year-old Jada Harris. Today, the community has united to deliver a fitting tribute to her memory in the form of a park.

Riverwood Park, La Verkin, Utah, Oct. 27, 2012 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

On the evening of Aug. 1, Jada Harris was playing in the backyard of her family’s home, literally steps away from La Verkin Creek, when she suddenly vanished. Frantic relatives contacted the authorities, launching a massive search of the area that involved emergency responders from the La Verkin Police Department, Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue and the Hurricane Valley Fire District, as well as more than 200 volunteers. Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed at 10:30 p.m., when her body was found under the state Route-17 bridge.

The community has rallied to support the Harris family since, including the Hurricane Valley Fire District, for which Jada’s father, Steve Harris, is a volunteer firefighter. The park will serve as not only a memorial of her short life, but as the inaugural project of the Hurricane Valley Foundation.

The foundation is the result of a vision that Chief Tom Kuhlmann of the Hurricane Valley Fire District had long before Jada Harris’s passing. After more than a year of preparation, it was established in late November to better the quality of life for families in Hurricane Valley and the surrounding areas through a variety of community-involved projects and programs. The park project is very personal for Kuhlmann and the foundation’s co-directors, John Bramall and Bruce Densley.

“The concept comes from the overwhelming community response to (this tragedy,)” Kuhlmann said. “The outpouring of love and support for the Harris family was overwhelming.”

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Memorial teddy bears and more for Jada Harris on SR-17 bridge, showing a community’s support in grief, placed above Riverwood Park, La Verkin, Utah, Oct. 27, 2012 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

Rather than creating a new facility, Kuhlmann, Bramall and Densley elected to improve the existing Riverwood Park in La Verkin. The park is located very close to the creek and SR-17 bridge and currently consists of little more than a grass common with an unfinished sand volleyball court.

On Sep. 5, the La Verkin City Council passed a resolution approving the modifications.

“The Mayor and City Council support the efforts to improve (the) park in memory of Jada Harris and any other children in the surrounding communities who have lost their lives and the (families) who deal with the significant challenges (of) such a loss,” La Verkin City Administrator Kyle Gubler said.

Among the improvements to Riverwood Park will be a walking path, covered picnic areas, a children’s play area, meditation garden, memorial wall, contemplation benches and restrooms.

Riverwood Park, La Verkin, Utah, Oct. 27, 2012 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

The Hurricane Valley Foundation will bear the burden of all costs through fundraising events, sales of memorial plaques, wall spaces and contemplation benches and other donations. One such fundraiser was held on Aug. 29 at CrossFit 435 in Hurricane, which dozens of community members, including Steve Harris and others from the Hurricane Valley Fire District, attended.

Kuhlmann, Bramall and Densley hope to unveil the final park design and begin both construction and further fundraising efforts in January 2013. Details, such as the official name and total cost, are yet to be determined.

“It will be a place to remember those who have touched our lives and leave a lasting legacy for individuals and events that have touched our community,” Kuhlmann said.

“We feel (the park) is a place of remembrance where anyone may go in (our daughter’s) honor,” Steve Harris and Jessica Harris said in a mutual statement. “We hope it will be a nice, calming place where families can spend time together and make memories like the ones we carry with us every minute of every day.”

For more information on the park project, contact the Hurricane Valley Foundation at 435-773-3858.

Riverwood Park, La Verkin, Utah, Oct. 27, 2012 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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