Soon after its official opening on Wednesday, families were enjoying Yuma's newest riverfront beach and cooling off in the water. When the dignitaries finished their speeches and cut the ceremonial ribbon, kids and adults jumped into the river, one gentleman started fishing and others sat on a wall, watching the scenes unfold.

A few others toured new trails leading to an educational grove under a tree canopy. It was designed for outdoor classes and has rock seating and a rustic, natural playground, including wood tepees.

The community celebrated the grand opening of the city’s third beach, named Playa Linda, which means “beautiful beach,” Wednesday morning. It is located in the West Wetlands Park, just west of the APS Solar Garden and easily accessible via an improved parking lot off of Water Street.

Playa Linda has an ADA-accessible ramp, seating wall, open grass area, sand beach, shade trees and new trails connecting to the park.

“What’s so significant about this is that this used to be the city dump,” City Administrator Greg Wilkinson said. “Transforming this beach area with grass and all this kind of stuff is really significant for the community. This is our third beach. Gateway Park is packed, Centennial Beach is packed, and now we’ve opened a third area. And you can see, kids are out using it already.”

For Deputy Mayor Gary Knight, it’s a dream come true to see the former wilderness and dump transformed into a beautiful park.

“As a native Yuman, I’ve waited all my life for this beach to happen, and when I say beach I don’t mean just right here, but all the way to Gateway Park,” Knight said. “It’s wonderful that we’re finally taking advantage of one of our greatest assets, and that’s the Colorado River ...

“It will be a tourist attraction, it will help us bring people and families to Yuma, and they’ll have a place to bring their kids for recreation, and that will be quite usable in the summertime when it’s really hot in Yuma. We’ve got water,” Knight added.

“We’re doing it for the next generation,” said Lowell Perry Jr., executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.

He told the Yuma Sun: “From my vantage point here, this is all about the kids. Not only the West Wetlands and Gateway Park and the East Wetlands, but the Territorial Prison and the Colorado River State Historic Park, all those things you’re going to see new enhancements and things that hopefully your kids are going to find not only educational but fun. We have to make it fun; learning doesn't have to be boring.”

Arizona State Parks Director Sue Black was on hand for the celebration. She noted that the state agency contributed $150,000 to the project and congratulated the leadership in Yuma for “making the right decisions for the community.” She said, “They say our public spaces define us as a community, and you guys are creating some really cool public spaces.”

She later explained why parks are so essential for a community. “It’s where we gather. And it’s not so much about the beach; it’s what going to happen on the beach. It’s not about the trail but what’s going to happen on the trail.”

Wilkinson thanked the city’s park maintenance crews. “When we retreat into the air conditioning, they’re out here busting their you-know-whats to make it go. … Those guys work their tails off.”

He then highlighted the public and private collaboration it took to make the new beach and trails happen. “None of this would be possible without the collaboration,” he said. “We believe in collaboration, whether it’s tribal, state, federal -- we’ve had a lot of federal help. The Walton Foundation helped us a little bit.”

In particular, Wilkinson expressed appreciation to “a community that turns out and support us. … I just want to thank you everybody in the community for pitching in and helping us make this a reality and bring it for our citizens. And I believe every weekend from here on we’ll see this beach packed.”

For Debbie Wendt, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the new beach is something to be proud of. “We can all take pride. Everyone out here had a say in that.”

Wendt thanked Mayor Doug Nicholls and the City Council, Arizona State Parks and Trails, Arizona Game and Fish, Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department as well as those who work behind the scenes and the hundreds of volunteers who cleared the park, laid the trails and planted the trees.

“We’ve given the river back to the community,” Wendt said.

The new beach will “offer so many more recreational opportunities. To have people experience what it’s like to be along the Colorado River, which has really been the heart-blood of what Yuma is and going way, way back, why Yuma even became Yuma on the river.”

Wendt is also excited about the new trails. “I always like to encourage folks to walk along the West Wetlands trails along the river on the lower bench because it takes you to a different environment from what Yuma actually is. To me you’re walking through a forest, going through a beautiful canopy of trees. We’re out here right now, it’s about 106, but you go into the canopy of trees along the Colorado River on the trails, it’s 10, 15 degrees cooler.”

More improvements are still planned for the park along the river. “We still have a long ways to go,” Wendt noted.

The Gowan Company donated $62,000 for further expansion of the park to the west. The Gowan Grove will have new trails and 700 newly planted trees. “They’re going to bring 500 volunteers down here in November to help us do that,” Wendt said.

“This is only the beginning. We want to continue to build on these things. And we want to invite your participation,” Perry said.

He’s interested in the ideas young people might have. “We want to hear from kids. What do they want? Too often as adults we think we’ve got all the answers and we don’t ask the young people, what would you find exciting? What would you like to come back to again and again and feel like you’re learning something every time out? So that’s my message. Let’s hear it from kids.”

To submit ideas on future improvements to the riverfront, email to lowell.perry@yumaaz.gov.