Moms' Network proposes remake of Walla Walla's Heritage Square Park

The group's vision is intended to eliminate a place for older youths to hang out and cause trouble.

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WALLA WALLA - The Moms' Network is proposing a remake of Heritage Square Park, one that would considerably change the downtown enclave for youths to an atmosphere that is more appealing to families.

But those changes are not without their critics.

"We just wanted to start a dialogue. The park has to change. It is not working downtown," said Moms' Network founder Beth Swanson.

Network members frequently use the park, meeting there at least once a week, Swanson said. And she added that on a number of occasions members have found discarded items that recently included condoms filled with water. And on at least one occasion the park's covered children's slide had urine inside of it, she said.

In an attempt to develop a family friendly park that would also promote more shopping downtown, the Moms' Network recently submitted a renovation plan to the city's Parks & Recreation Department.

"We went out and measured and we put together what we would think we could do without having to do structural work that would make it more of a family friendly park, in hopes that it would eliminate (older) kids that want to hang out there," Swanson said.

The proposed changes include removing the shrubbery - but not the trees - as well as removing an unnecessary wheelchair ramp at the rear of the park, which Swanson said would help to make all sections of the park more visible, as well as less attractive to people looking for a place to hang out without being seen.

"Our point was regardless of where a mom stood in that park, she should be able to see everything," Swanson said.

The group is also proposing to remove the fencing around the play area and put in low fences with gates across the front and rear of park, which Swanson said would help to keep toddlers from leaving the area but still allow an unobstructed view.

Other additions would include replacing the play structure with a spider-web climbing structure, adding handicapped-accessible swings, benches, rubber chips, an interactive bronze fountain and a stationary climbing train for toddlers that would be in front of the Windows On The Past photo and architecture exhibit.

"I am not saying not to do something for little kids; I have little children myself … I just don't think that is an appropriate use," said Jeana Garske of ArtWalla, a group that was instrumental in the development of the Windows On The Past exhibit.

Late last month, ArtWalla submitted a letter to the Parks & Recreation Department voicing concerns over the visual impediments to Windows On The Past and the Olde Towne mural that would be created by the proposed changes.

"Originally there were a lot of people with a vision for that park. And they funded different parts of it. And I think that there needs to be some respect for that original version as well," Garske said, noting that more than $300,000 was donated for Windows On The Past from local, state and national benefactors, including the National Endowment for the Arts.

In the ArtWalla letter, Garske, and ArtWalla President Rob Robinson said the proposal is intended to benefit a narrow group: families with young children. The letter went on to say the proposal "does not respect the magnitude of ArtWalla's effort to complete public art installations on site for the benefit of the whole community."

The Parks & Recreation Department has reviewed the proposal and so far is recommending to take no action, but to include the proposal in any future design review changes for Heritage Square Park.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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