Memories of Riverside Park
In 1944, the 115 acres known as Government Lot 2 were acquired by the City of Vero Beach for $11,170.58. Hard work and careful planning helped make the park what it is today.
On a perfect Vero Beach morning, I walk toward the Little Flower Gazebo on a pristine point jutting out into the Indian River Lagoon. In 2008, Dixon R. Downey donated funds and designed the public access that lies just north of Veterans Memorial Island to resemble a rose complete with a curving sidewalk “stem,” two shorter sidewalks with benches curving outward from the stem to resemble leaves and a red-roofed gazebo at the tip overlooking the river. Downey had always referred to his wife of 67 years, Virginia Robinson Downey, as his “little flower” and after she passed away in 2008, he wanted her to look down from Heaven and see a rose.
My tour guide is Chris Mauser, the man responsible for irrigating all the green grass and new plantings in the 84 separate irrigation zones at Riverside Park. “Mr. Downey and his wife were very generous to the park. They used to come here together and sit in the Grand Pavilion.” The Downeys also donated the funds to build the three large gazebos where weddings and concerts take place and countless prom photos are taken. “This park is packed during prom week. Couples are all dressed up and taking pictures before they go to the dance.”
As we make our way down the stem of the rose to the Little Flower Pavilion, Mauser tells me I may be in for a treat. “Mid-morning, we’ll see the dolphins come into this cove and teach their babies how to catch fish.” Right on cue, the dolphin family appears, cruising near the rocks and delighting people looking over the railing on the bridge to Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary. The pod slows, its members straightening their bodies to resemble small orcas, and then moves on. Mauser smiles. “They’re early today.”