The city’s oldest park is turning 100, and thousands of people are expected to attend an anniversary celebration Saturday of Donner Park that will feature family activities and entertainment.

The event will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at the park, located at 739 22nd St. A second milestone being observed is the 70th anniversary of the city’s parks and recreation department, said Carley Freeman, marketing and public relations coordinator for the parks department.

The celebration will include free activities for families to enjoy, including a magic show, face painting, pony rides and an obstacle course. Individuals who want to cool off can swim for free from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Donner Aquatic Center, feature a disc jockey and pool games, Freeman said.

Cake and cookies will also be distributed to guests.

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Scrapbooks featuring old newspaper clips and photos highlighting the city’s parks history will be available to view during the event, Freeman said.

An hour after the anniversary party concludes, the Donner Park Variety Show featuring the Banister Bluegrass Band and Cottonpatch will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Donner Park shelter house located

“We want the whole community to come out,” Freeman said.

The land where Donner Park was created had been a green space owned by William Donner, a Columbus native who became wealthy in the Pennsylvania steel industry.

In 1917, Donner donated a plot of land to be used as a community park. Three decades later, his foundation made a subsequent donation to the city in the form of a swimming pool and community center, Donner Center, named after the philanthropist.

Park board member Mark Levett said Donner Park was the foundation for the city’s entire parks system, which has grown over the past century to also include an extensive People Trail system.

Levett credited community leaders who had a vision for the park a century ago.

“It’s another example of how community collaboration produces great things,” Levett said. “It’s a key part of our life.”

Fellow board member Julie Abedian, whose children learned how to swim at the Donner Aquatic Center, described Donner Park as “a jewel in our community” that is loved by many people who have spent time there while growing up.

Abedian said she’s looking forward to Saturday’s celebration and encouraged the public to come out and have a good time.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet up with friends and neighbors in a great setting,” she said.

What next?

However, the future of the 70-year-old Donner Center — which holds public meetings and events in addition to housing the parks department’s administrative offices — has been a topic of discussion this year by the park board members, Abedian said.

Donner Center is showing signs of wear and often requires repairs, Mark Jones, city parks and recreation director, said in an earlier interview.

Jones said in March that input from the public will be used in determining the building’s future — adding that all options will be explored, including demolition.

The city’s parks and recreation department is in the process of developing a five-year master plan — to be released in fall — to help guide the future of the city parks system.

Abedian said the future of Donner Center remains an important focus, adding that officials want to keep it recreation-focused and serve as a community center.

“What’s even more exciting now is the rethinking of how it can best serve the community going forward,” she said.

If you go

What: Celebration of 100 years of Donner Park and 70 years of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department

When: 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday; Donner Park Variety show featuring Banister Bluegrass Band and Cottonpatch will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Donner Park shelter house near 19th Street and Lafayette Avenue

Where: Donner Park and Donner Center, 739 22nd St.

Admission: Free

Information: Visit columbusparksandrec.com

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com