Goal of MLK Park: Better Foster Community Spirit

The vibe at the City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation’s open house on Sunday was thick with enthusiasm and hope as the collective dream to reimagine the public space moves forward to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Just outside the Walnut Barn at MLK Jr. Park, dozens of people congregated and crowded around the art renderings of proposals to upgrade the 36-acre site. Event goers peppered park officials and design team members with questions, helpful comments and friendly suggestions of what they’d like to see with the neighborhood park located at 4905 Walnut Blvd. 

Nearby, a video of Dr. King’s highly moving, iconic and acclaimed address, “I Have a Dream,” played in celebration of the 59th anniversary of the day the original speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

For Corvallis resident Belva Smith, the significance of the Aug. 28, 1963, speech and Dr. King still holds great meaning. “I think it’s wonderful and even after all these years, he’s still recognized as one of the greatest civil rights leaders in my lifetime. Whenever I hear that speech, it takes me back to that time and place.” 

Smith is delighted about the proposed improvements to the park. “It’s absolutely a good and amazing thing. It’s a beautiful location and close to home,” she said motioning to her daughter’s dog, Bella. “She can meet up and make new friends.” 

Proposed Upgrades 

Many attendees also were accompanied by their dogs and conversations seemed to focus on pet-centered amenities as one proposed improvement is an off-leash dog park. Other ideas include a great lawn commons, playgrounds that may include water play areas, a full basketball court, meadows, additional bathrooms, improved parking, overlooks with seating, and a commemorative gateway plaza at the main entrance to welcome park patrons with its tranquil setting. 

“It was really exciting to bring all the stakeholders together and come up with a design that will work with the neighborhood,” said Lorraine Bamford, a landscape designer with Juncus Studio in Portland. “We wanted to design in a way that suits the families here. We incorporated sports, water features for kids to play in and be safe, areas with artwork to be a contemplative space, and, of course, be ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant.” 

Colorful and inspiring artwork as well as educational exhibits about Dr. King’s life and other notable leaders will be found throughout the park. Additionally, nature trails, paths, and the restoration of wetlands and Lamprey Creek are part of the improvement plans. There will be minimal and limited enhancements in the sections near existing wetland buffer zones. 

A Peaceful Place 

“We hope this project will result in a community space where people can feel free to be themselves, and safe to have potentially difficult conversations about difficult subjects such as systemic racism and marginalized communities,” said Jackie Rochefort, a City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation park planner. We also want this to be a place where people feel light, love, hope and community. The park will be a place that inspires people to take action against social injustices and leave people wanting to come back again and again.” 

Plans are expected to be ready in early 2023 with work potentially starting next summer. It is estimated the project will take two years to complete with the city responsible for maintaining the park. 

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park is a special park in that it has both developed and natural areas,” said Rochefort. “It already has a century barn that can be rented for events and activities. Adding community gathering spaces and interpretation based on Dr. King will make this a very special place for the Corvallis community and a destination for people from outside of the area. This unique park will allow visitors to connect with the natural environment and their neighbors in a safe and accessible way.” 

The price tag for the project is about $8.5 million and with an anonymous donor kicking in $2 million, plus other city and state contributions, the fundraising goal is set at $1.5 million, said Audrey Hatch, Friends of Corvallis Parks & Recreation fundraising campaign co-chair. 

Fundraiser Campaign Launched 

”We are excited and enthusiastic about making our goal,” said Hatch, adding the fundraising website officially kicked off on Sunday. “It feels like the right time for this project in the community. We need a park that recognizes inclusion and equality, social justice and all the values that are important to us.” 

The Friends of Corvallis Parks & Recreation, a nonprofit organization, provided the first $30,000 for this project, enabling its committee to establish a campaign to raise the needed funds for the park upgrades. 

Also helping the cause was Go Giddy Popsicles. With each frozen confection sold, $1 was earmarked for the project. The icy treats sold like, well, ice cream to scores of people seeking cool relief from the midday sun. 

Park Helps Lift Spirits 

32-year Corvallis resident Clairemonde Harris said she and her husband come often to enjoy the park, particularly the xeriscape in front of the Walnut barn. “It’s inspirational here.” 

Clairemonde Harris said she would like to see more shade structures among the proposed upgrades so that they can enjoy the site more often, rain or shine. She also suggested plenty of artwork, such as murals, to be included in the plans. 

“There should be a mural somewhere,” she said. “The more visual, the more impactful it will be. Artwork brings a community up.” 

MLK’s Legacy Remains Significant 

Smith’s daughter, Carolyn Harris, lives very close to the park and cannot wait to see the project come to fruition. “I’m excited about what’s coming.”  

Carolyn Harris is one of several arts and fundraising ambassadors for Friends of Corvallis Parks & Recreation. “To focus on the legacy of Martin Luther King and the impact it will have on the community is exciting,” she said. “His messages, of the power of love and servanthood, still ring true to this day.” 

Carolyn Harris said she is thrilled about “how much the City is prepared to invest in this project … If we can work together, imagine the difference we can make in the country and in the world.” 

For those who want to make an online donation to the project, subscribe to get updates, or provide suggestions and/or feedback, go to the fundraising campaign website. Contributions also may be made via phone at 541-766-6918; or with a check payable to Friends of Corvallis Parks & Recreation – MLK Park, and delivered in person or mailed to:  

City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation  

1310 SW Avery Park Drive  

Corvallis, OR  97333 

For other inquiries, contact Audrey Hatch at 541-908-0922 or Anne Murphy at 541-760-7196 or email at MLKPark@corvallisoregon.gov. 

By Patty Reyes 

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