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Aviation Heritage Park




STORY BY EMILY ROBERTSON

As you drive down Three Springs Road in Bowling Green, it is nearly impossible to miss the impressive collection of aircraft at the Aviation Heritage Park (AHP). While the aircraft may be the initial draw for most people driving by or stopping to visit, the organizers of AHP are on a mission for visitors to learn about and honor the aviators behind each plane and how they are tied to the South Central Kentucky region.

“Throughout history, aviators from South Central Kentucky have contributed significantly to aviation,” says Christine Bobco, Executive Assistant at Aviation Heritage Park. “These aviators deserve to be recognized and celebrated so that future generations might be made aware of and motivated by their extraordinary achievements. AHP is dedicated to memorializing the stories of these aviation heroes and pioneers.”

The concept for the park birthed more than a decade ago out of a group of local friends who took a trip to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. While at the museum, the group heard about an abandoned F-4D Phantom II at a nearby VFW post that had historical significance to one of the group members, Dan Cherry. When Cherry saw the aircraft, he recalled that it was the very plane he flew in 1972 over Vietnam where he shot down a Vietnamese MiG-21 and watched the pilot eject. The group quickly began to brainstorm and work to move the plane to Bowling Green and the non-profit, Aviation Heritage Park, became official in 2005.

Since the park is open to the public from dawn until dusk each day and doesn’t charge admission, it is difficult to know exactly how many people visit each year, but the organization estimates the number to between 15,000 to 20,000 people. Along with the historical element of South Central aviators, Aviation Heritage Park also works to cultivate and educate the future of aviation through several programs hosted at, or in conjunction with, the park, including several different transportation or space themed camps, Drone Dash, Open Cockpit Day, Kite Day, Super Saturdays and Red Tail Squadron’s Rise Above Exhibit, just to name a few.

The park is extremely unique in its approach of historical preservation, as well as its organization. The land the AHP sits on is within Basil Griffin Park. At the beginnings of AHP, in 2005, the idea immediately garnered attention of elected county and city officials, who strongly supported the concept. Warren County Fiscal Court granted an unused portion of the park to be used for the development of Aviation Heritage Park. The park, which is filled with aircraft now, has big plans for the future: an indoor museum.

“As you know, a lot of space is required to display aircraft and South Central Kentucky has a very rich history of significant aviators,” Bobco says. “AHP has outgrown its current physical capacities and is in dire need of expansion to more adequately share the numerous stories of South Central Kentucky aviators. Many of the exhibits AHP would like to install require state of-the-art indoor museum gallery space. The construction of an indoor facility will provide the needed space and environment to continue and expand on the important work already started with the outdoor park.”

The new indoor museum will provide space for classrooms, displays and handson activities, many centered around encouraging the love of aviation, science and engineering. The goal of these displays and activities includes fostering our youth’s pride in their country.

The Aviation Heritage Park is funded largely through the group’s Hangar Party each year. As the organization’s only ticketed event, the party is a fundraiser, but the group also unveils new aircraft for the park at the party and allows attendees to hear the pilot’s story. The night also includes music, food, drinks and lots of aircraft on display.

At the 2020 Hangar Party, a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter will be unveiled to honor the late Col. Mac Reynolds.

“Mac held the title of Presidential Helicopter Pilot and flew for four of our presidents, in addition to a long and noteworthy career with the US military,” Bobco says. “Mac loved his country and he loved Bowling Green. We are thrilled to be able to honor him at AHP.”

Along with the Hangar Party, AHP is funded through grants, individual contributions, a memorial brick and bench program, a park donation box and merchandise sales.

All the various efforts of Aviation Heritage Park take place because of a board of directors with 19 members and seven directors emeritus, along with many other volunteers. The organization only has one part-time employee, so it truly is a labor of love and service. While many AHP volunteers have a military background or affiliation through family or friends, all volunteers at AHP share the commonalities of community pride, support for one another, and pride in their country. The current Board President, Joe Tinius, retired from Bowling Green Independent Schools after serving as superintendent for 10 years. Tinius became involved with AHP as a way to honor his father and father-in-law, who served during World War II, and because of the educational opportunities the Aviation Heritage Park provides to local students.

Along with the work and passion of volunteers, AHP exists because of partnerships with other organizations and businesses. Bobco says several businesses provide goods and services for the park for free or for a reduced cost, which helps the AHP do more with the funds they have. Aviation Heritage Park volunteers and officials are also incredibly grateful for the support of Warren County Fiscal Court, the City of Bowling Green, Warren County Parks and Recreation Department, the Bowling Green Warren County Regional Airport and the Bowling Green Convention and Visitors Bureau.

If you, or your business, are interested in getting involved with AHP, the organization always welcomes new volunteers and support. Go to aviationheritagepark.com or check out the group’s Facebook page. Also, if you are interested in learning more about Dan Cherry, the aviator that started the effort for AHP, purchase his book My Enemy, My Friend, which details his story of reconciliation and friendship regarding the pilot he shot down. All proceeds from the sale of the book go toward ongoing maintenance of the park aircraft.

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