Legacy, Life of MLK Inspires Proposed Park Update

With the addition of an expansive and more welcoming gateway plaza, inspired artwork and interpretive spaces throughout, as well as other suggested park upgrades and features, you could say it’ll be built for a king – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., that is. 

Dr. King, who preached love over hate, espoused courage and championed nonviolence, and, of course, helped bravely lead the civil rights movement in the 1960s, soon will be honored locally with proposed improvements to an existing 36-acre park already named for him, located at 4905 Walnut Blvd.  

One of his most-celebrated speeches, “I Have a Dream,” given to raise awareness of the problems of racism, segregation and injustices in America at that time with calls for equality and freedom was delivered on Aug. 28, 1963. 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Dr. King said that day, in an off-the-cuff, inspired departure from his prepared notes. 

And exactly 59 years later to the day, the City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation department, together with the local fundraising committee that helps support improvements to area parks, will host an open house from 1:00-3:00 p.m., at the Walnut Barn at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.  

The community is encouraged to attend the family-friendly event which will focus on the significance of the “I Have a Dream” speech, reveal suggested park upgrades, and kickstart the project’s fund-raising efforts. Yard signs will be available for supporters and donors; Go Giddy Popsicles will be sold for $4 a pop with $1 of each sold earmarked for the project. 

“A space that is inclusive of everyone and that centers on the contributions and voice of Dr. King and other human rights leaders throughout the country is the goal,” said Jason J. Dorsette, president of the Corvallis-Albany Branch of the NAACP and executive director of the Institution for Equity and Diversity at Linn-Benton Community College. “We envision the space to be highly utilized, an area that the community can feel safe. It’s a win-win for organizations and the greater good of society.” 

Proposed Plans 

Proposed improvements to the park – designed to celebrate the community and diversity – will serve as educational opportunities to learn about Dr. King and other notable people.  

A commemorative gateway plaza at the main approach to the park will offer a relaxing and welcoming space. Additional planned upgrades to the park range from the establishment of a great lawn commons, artwork, playgrounds that may include water play areas, a sports court, overlooks with seating, meadows, additional bathrooms, and a dog park. Improved paths, nature trails, the restoration of Lamprey Creek and wetlands also are proposed. There will be limited and minimal improvements in areas near existing wetland buffer zones. 

The cost is estimated at $8.5 million, said Jackie Rochefort, City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation park planner. 

“The fundraising committee has already solidified an anonymous lead donor for $2 million and we estimate about another $1.5 million will need to be raised for construction and the start of a stewardship reserve fund to help maintain and activate the space after construction,” Rochefort said, adding that “the City has received a $4 million grant from the state (sponsored by Rep. Dan Rayfield) and will commit about $1 million of System Development Charges to the project.” 

The Friends of Corvallis Parks & Recreation, a nonprofit organization, generously donated the first $30,000 for this project to enable the fundraising committee to launch a campaign to raise the needed funds to bring this project to fruition, Rochefort said. 

The city will be responsible for maintaining the park, said Meredith Petit, City of Corvallis Parks & Recreation Director. “Should the fundraising campaign be as successful as we hope, we will also be able to start a stewardship reserve fund that would support future maintenance and/or programming. We will also look to engage with groups of volunteers to provide support for maintenance work such as landscaping.” 

Although the fundraising campaign website, Progress TODAY @MLK, is still under construction, it has been launched and is now live. Those who want to donate to the project or provide feedback and suggestions to park officials can do so via the campaign. 

Dr. King’s Life Showcased 

“My first hope for the project is to show the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – human rights, acceptance, community, equity, equality and justice for all,” said Dorsette. “Those are just a few attributes of Dr. King, the ideals and principles he stood on, preached, talked and wrote about. I believe that in collaborating with the City of Corvallis and other organizations, those ideals will manifest. We have every reason to believe that they will.” 

Rochefort said the park in its current form does not incorporate any of the teachings or values of Dr. King. “He is represented in name only,” she said. “This project will bring in the story of systemic racism while creating a place where all people can come together as one community.” 

Other attributes will be added that recognize “the relation of the land to the Kalapuya,” said Rochefort. “The entire park will be designed with bright, joyful colors in the active spaces and emphasize the development of gathering spaces to bring people together. A large plaza can be a place for community demonstrations, performances or other activities for expression.” 

Exhibits about Dr. King’s life, some little-known stories – some uplifting, some unpleasant – will be stationed throughout the park. 

“The signage, the educational opportunities to learn about Dr. King will help those learn about his triumphs and challenges,” Dorsette said. “Oftentimes we fail to acknowledge that a person of that magnitude experiences great backlash and the toll it can take on the family. It’s an unfortunate price to pay that the public doesn’t get to witness.” 

While Dr. King won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1964, there were moments in his life that are beyond the understanding of many in our community. 

“Dr. King did not pass away in old age. He did not die naturally. He was brutally murdered in such a horrific way that left trauma,” Dorsette continued. “He was deeply engaged and cared for others but he was not able to always be present for his family. He wasn’t always able to engage with his family. It all took a toll on everyone.” 

Local Black Leaders Made the Difference 

The collaboration with Dorsette and other individuals regarding the park evolved after “members of the King Legacy Advisory Board and the NAACP approached the park director with concerns that a park bearing Dr. King’s name had no other connection to his teachings or life legacy,” recalled Rochefort. “Additionally, the park was underutilized and needed some design upgrades, so preparing a park plan to include design and interpretation seemed an appropriate approach to the project.” 

“It’s an amazing opportunity not only for myself but also for many other individuals who want to see this park in a transformative way,” Dorsette said. 

He and others on the committee worked with designers and wanted to ensure certain artifacts and aspects of Dr. King’s life were present throughout the reimagined park. “We not only want to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions along with other civil rights leaders but also to educate,” said Dorsette. “As the park evolves, we want to provide learning opportunities to learn about his legacy and the legacies of other positive-change leaders.” 

“I have always thought this project would begin a journey of social justice,” Dorsette added. “I want it to be more inclusive and inviting. I’m so excited to participate in this project.” 

Excellence is Worth the Wait 

With design plans expected to be ready in early 2023, work could start next summer. Funding and permits, however, will have to be in place before construction can begin, Rochefort said. “We anticipate the project will take two construction seasons to complete, approximately two years. 

So while it might take some time for the park to be completed in all its glory, the effort is sure to be worth it. As Dr. King said more than 50 years ago, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” 

By Patty Reyes 

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email editor@corvallisadvocate.com