ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Saying the right thing to the right person at the right time can accomplish a lot of good in the world-or at least, in a city park.
The first phase of some significant improvements planned for Memorial Park is already under way because of a casual conversation that occurred about three weeks ago at McDonald’s.
Martin Rhodes, city building inspector, was having a cup of coffee when he was approached by Bob Loewen, who was on his way to his job at Golden Heritage Foods.
“Bob said, ‘We had our company picnic in the city park last night and that city park is an absolute disgrace,'” Rhodes said.
“He said, ‘You ought to go over to McPherson and look at that little city park that’s located between the college and Main Street.'”
Loewen said he had noticed how well cared for the park in McPherson was because his father-in-law lives near it.
That was all Rhodes needed to hear. He left the fast-food restaurant and went straight to Memorial Park, located just off of West D Street.
“I took a good, long, hard look at that thing,” he said. “From there, I came back to the office and told the gals, ‘I’m going to McPherson.'”
Rhodes said he took about 40 photos of McPherson’s park, including the playground equipment, spacing, seating, park benches, picnic tables-even the public restrooms.
“I looked at everything-even how the trees were trimmed and how sidewalks were put in place,” he said.
When he came back to Hillsboro, Rhodes said he took about as many photos of Memorial Park.
“Then I got to thinking, what can we do to improve this?” he said.
Armed with what Rhodes calls an “ambiguous plan” and the blessing of city leaders, work has already begun to give the park a facelift.
Each piece of playground equipment at Memorial Park has been repaired and painted, with new gravel beds constructed around each one to make them safer for children.
The public restrooms at the circle-drive entrance to the park have been remodeled, park benches and picnic tables have been repaired, the horseshoe pit has been cleaned up and painted, some new park benches have been built and placed, and numerous trees have been trimmed and even removed.
But that’s only the start.
Over the next year or two, plans call for Rhodes and his crew to add flower beds and shrubs at the park entrance, additional park benches, one or two water “geysers” in the north city pond, and some 18-inch-high native-stone walls and also rail fences along the south-pond spillway.
The most striking addition, though, may be the construction of a roughly half-mile-long walking path, 3 to 5 feet wide, made with an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 bricks removed this summer from the Main Street renovation project.
The path will loop through the park area.
Also, more Main Street bricks will be used to create a patio area 10 to 15 feet wide around the east shelter house, with a brick sidewalk extending from the patio to the circle drive.
Some of the new park benches have been situated in anticipation of the walking path to come.
“I’ve already built six park benches and set them at these old-fashioned lights that are already there,” Rhodes said.
“Right now there are no shade trees there, but my purpose for putting those right there is that at night time, if people are walking along and want to sit down and rest, they’ve got a streetlight right there. Also in the wintertime, people want sunshine.”
He said he is building some park benches that will wrap around trees so adults can sit and watch their kids play on the playground equipment.
Rhodes said the entire project should cost the city only $2,500 for materials, plus about 1,700 hours of labor.
“I took this proposal to Steve (Garrett, city administrator) and I said, ‘Steve, in material costs, we’re not looking at spending that much money.’ And he agreed.”
Rhodes has also put into motion a plan to have the grass in the park reseeded and then irrigated.
“It came to my attention that the mayor would love to see this whole park sprinkled somehow, but it was basically cost prohibitive,” Rhodes said.
“Gary Andrews (groundskeeper at the adjoining golf course) came to me one day and said, ‘The guy I buy all my supplies from will design a system for us at no charge.’
“Being the Huck Finn type I am, I’m going to let him do it,” Rhodes said. “All we have to do is buy the supplies from them-we had to buy it from somebody, and they’re a wholesale outfit.”
Rhodes said the sprinkler system will be installed this winter and will be hooked up to a nearby city well that currently is not in use.
As a finishing touch, Rhodes said he plans to add signage that will be sandblasted out of redwood. He also hopes to find someone who will help him create 20 to 30 animal silhouettes-about 18 inches by 12 inches in size-that he wants to attach to the limbs of various trees.
“Then we’ll have a sign that asks the children to see how many animals they can find in the park,” he said.
Rhodes said the entire project could be completed within two years, but it may take as long as three, depending on a variety of factors.
“It’s a very ambiguous plan, but I think the general public will really enjoy it,” Rhodes said. “I hope it will encourage more people to use our city park.”
Meanwhile, Loewen downplays his part in the renaissance.
“I just about fell over when he told me what he had done,” Loewen said. “I sure don’t want to have any kind of credit for this. Martin just picked up on a comment and started to run with it.
“I think it was just being overlooked, and when somebody pointed out we’re not doing as good a job as some of our neighboring communities, I think it just caught on.
“It just happened to hit a hot button for Martin,” Loewen added, “and his energy just caused him to work on it.”