It’s hard to believe that virtually nothing marks the spot where famous aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart, landed her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B, near Culmore on May 21, 1932.
Earhart, who had taken off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, was only hours away from reaching her destination, Paris, when she was forced to land in Gallagher’s Field after her plane experienced technical problems.
Gallagher’s Field is now part of the 120 acre Ballyarnett Country Park. It’s a huge piece of land but due to lack of investment and under utilisation there’s an eerie, lonely feeling; if you told a tourist that this was the place where Earhart had landed almost 80 years they’d almost certainly think you were pulling their leg.
“More needs to be done with this piece of land,” says Greater Shantallow Community Arts manager Ollie Green. “This place is steeped in history when it comes to the Amelia Earhart story, yet, when you enter the park, there’s isn’t even as much as a plaque to tell visitors what happened here. There seems to be plenty of money for the Titanic projects in Belfast but at least Amelia Earhart got across the Atlantic!”
In recent months, Derry City Council consulted local community groups and residents about what they would like to see happen to 120 acre site. The consultation period officially ended in September and local Sinn Fein councillor Tony Hassan says that now is the time for the Council to move the process forward.
“Obviously the thing to hang our hat on here is the fact that this is the place where Amelia Earhart landed her plane in 1932 but there’s so much potential to do more, we just need the backing of Derry City Council and other statutory bodies.
“ILEX are an organisation that have been tasked with managing the regeneration of Derry. I would call upon them to get on board with the regeneration of the Ballyarnett Country Park.
“This site is just calling out for investment. Not only would it help to transform the local community but it would also be a welcome addition to Derry’s profile as a tourist destination.”
Greater Shantallow Community Arts host the Earhart Festival on the site every year.
A few years ago dance troupe ‘Diversity’ performed in front of a large crowd.
Ollie Green says that with the right plan in place and the necessary funding the Ballyarnett Country Park could be a place where so many things could happen.
“No one is saying to turn the park into a place that only services one section of the community. It’s a big enough piece of land to support many different things.
“Personally speaking I would like to see a purpose built centre for the arts with a 250 seat theatre, sound recording studios and art studio.
“The site could also be used as a tourist destination so that tourists can learn about Amelia Earhart.
“There are hundreds of aviation clubs in the USA and every year they have a festival to celebrate Amelia Earhart’s life in America - we should be doing the same kind of thing on a much bigger scale.”
Ollie refused to let the fact that the country is in the middle of economic hardship sway him away from seeking funding for the project.
“The money is there to fund a project like this one. It seems that when anyone in Belfast wants money to do something they get it.
“There’s a real opportunity to leave a lasting legacy with the regeneration and development of Ballyarentt Country Park so I would call upon Derry City Council, our local MLAs and other statutory bodies to get on board and make this work.”
Colr. Hassan revealed that although the project could take as long as ten years to complete, he believes that it could be completed sooner.
“The initial report says that it could take between five and ten years to complete the project but I think that if we do it right it could be finished by between three and seven years.
“You don’t have to be a genius to see the potential Ballyarnett Country Park possesses. It’s up to us as elected representatives and community workers to make sure it happens,” he said.