In its heyday in the 1920s, Eilers Park bustled with picnickers, swimmers and music fans. They rode a Ferris wheel, nibbled snacks at a concession stand, hung out in rental cottages and crowded around a band stage near the Colorado River.

Today, though, the 8-acre park next to Deep Eddy Pool is little more than a hillside with a wide curving sidewalk, a few metal tables, some neglected playground equipment and a tangle of invasive plants. It's seen more as an access point for the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake than a destination.

Friends of Eilers Park, a group of volunteers who joined forces in 2006, wants to change that. The nonprofit group operates under the umbrella of the Austin Parks Foundation.

Armed with plans to spruce up the grounds with a natural amphitheater, an interactive play fountain, a new dock and native landscaping, they've launched a fundraising campaign dubbed "Bring Back Eilers Park."

"We want to revitalize the park and bring back some of the history and make it more attractive for people of all ages to be outdoors," says Brenda McGahagin, co-founder of Friends of Eilers Park. "That parkland is prime and underutilized."

The entire project will cost an estimated $800,000 to $1 million.

For now, organizers want to raise $68,000 to help pay for the first phase of the project: improving the entrance and expanding the picnic area at the top of the park.

They're applying for a grant from the Austin Parks Foundation, and hope to land more grants, donations and funding from the private and public sector. Construction will take place in phases, and timing will depend on how quickly they can raise money.

So far, fundraising is going slowly, with only a few thousand dollars collected, McGahagin says.

Justin Lindabury of TBG Partners, which also designed Butler District Park next to the Palmer Events Center, and Kelly McKeachern of Studio-Fuse, designed the project pro bono.

The plans call for exposing more panoramic lake views, refurbishing the handicap-accessible ramp and adding some structures for exercise and stretching. They also call for creating a safer crossing at Lake Austin Boulevard and allow for the potential future extension of the hike-and-bike trail around the lake.

McGahagin, who once lived in the nearby Brackenridge Apartments for married University of Texas students, still lives in the neighborhood.

"We had many birthday parties there, and my daughter went through lifeguard training there," she says of Eilers Park. "It's really near and dear to our hearts."

To donate, go to www.friendsofeilerspark.org or mail a check to Jerry Spataro, Treasurer/Friends of Eilers Park, 701 Holly Court, Pflugerville, Texas 78660.

Two volunteer opportunities are also planned: an Eilers Park Beautification Day geared toward families on Feb. 27 (sign up at www.littlehelpinghands.org) and It's My Park Day on March 6.

Worried about hidden heart problems in your student athlete?

Swimmers, cheer leaders, marching band members and other active types ages 14 to 18 can get a free heart screening to check for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes, on Jan. 30.

The screenings, which take two to five minutes, are noninvasive and painless. Championship Hearts, a non-profit Austin group, is providing them.

Championship Hearts has screened more than 10,000 students in the past decade. About 1 percent have been referred for more testing.

The screenings will be done from 8 a.m. to noon Jan. 30 at Lone Star Circle of Care's Adolescent Health & Wellness Clinic, 3950 North A.W. Grimes Blvd. in Round Rock. The clinic is on the second floor of the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Students need a signed parental waiver. Waivers are available on the foundation's Web site at www.championshipheartsfoundation.org or at the clinic.

A tax-deductible $15 contribution is requested.

Cardiologists from Austin Heart Hospital, Children's Cardiology Associates of Austin and Heart & Vascular of Central Texas are donating their time to make the screenings possible.

Athletes and their parents can also watch free demonstrations of automated external defibrillators.

Additional free screenings are planned for Feb. 20, July 31 and Aug. 28 at the Heart Hospital of Austin.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994