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Corvallis unveils plan to add history to MLK Park
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Corvallis unveils plan to add history to MLK Park

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A major expansion and enhancement proposed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Corvallis received glowing marks Thursday at a remote City Council session.

Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department officials briefed councilors on the plans, whose overarching goal is to include the values and history that King represented in the design and context of the park.

Key features of the proposal include:

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• A gateway plaza with art and sculptures inspired by King as well as trellises and quotes on benches and walls.

• An Indigenous overlook noting King’s support of Indigenous justice and freedom.

• A basketball court, a “cultural cornerstone for people of color.”

• Murals and art in the Walnut Barn that reflect Black luminaries.

• A community graffiti wall.

• Freedom trail signs reflecting stories of Black justice movements and local Indigenous history.

The City Council likely will formally adopt the plan at a meeting next month. More design work, fundraising and community outreach lie ahead, with construction starting perhaps as early as summer of 2023.

“It is in my ward, and I see this as a moment to attract people to not just my little corner but to Corvallis itself,” said Councilor Ed Junkins of Ward 8.

“This project,” said Meredith Petit, director of Corvallis Parks and Recreation, “has the potential to elevate the city of Corvallis and lead to change. This park is going to educate and inspire and be the venue for difficult conversations.”

Leading the way on the interpretive plan for the park was a committee headed by Jimbo Ivy, supervisor of the Majestic Theatre. Also serving were Luhui Whitebear of Oregon State University’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws; Robert Thompson, a professor of ethnic studies at OSU; Corvallis King Legacy Advisory Board member Jose LaSalle; Terrance Harris of OSU’s Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center; and Jason Dorsette, president of the Corvallis/Albany chapter of the NAACP.

“The mission,” Ivy said, “was to take this awesome park and turn it into one in which you can have a conversation about racial justice. We want a park that can educate. Also, this plan should be envisioned by the Black, Indigenous and people of color communities and not just the white-dominant community.”

"This is very exciting," said Ward 5 Councilor Charlyn Ellis. "This is going to be a gem of a park," said Ward 6 Councilor Laurie Chaplen.

Councilors made a series of suggestions, including a recommendation that the interpretive design include Asian Americans and the Hispanic community. Other topics raised were continuing challenges of noise from amplified events at the Walnut Barn, whether a dog zone is an appropriate feature and a suggestion from Junkins that the graffiti wall not be placed too close to the street.

"This was a very thorough plan and a wonderful process," Mayor Biff Traber told the presenters, who included veteran parks planner Jackie Rochefort. "Thanks for all the work you put into this. I expect council approval will be straightforward."

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@lee.net or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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