Patty Pastore talks to people at Veterans Memorial Park on Monday. Pastore has been involved in an effort to keep the park clean. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Patty Pastore talks to people at Veterans Memorial Park on Monday. Pastore has been involved in an effort to keep the park clean. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Fundraising underway for fence at Veterans Memorial Park

Drug use, vandalism at Port Angeles site prompt action

PORT ANGELES — Ongoing drug use and vandalism by a handful of people who frequent Veterans Memorial Park has led to community members raising funds to fence off the Liberty Bell replica.

Karen Rogers, former mayor and city council member, said Monday she launched the fundraising effort after seeing discussion in the community about the park.

Rogers, who is familiar with how the city works and its budget constraints, felt the need to act.

Ninette Swanson picks up garbage at Veterans Memorial Park in Port Angeles on Monday. Community members are raising money to help the city of Port Angeles build a fence around the bell. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Ninette Swanson picks up garbage at Veterans Memorial Park in Port Angeles on Monday. Community members are raising money to help the city of Port Angeles build a fence around the bell. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

“The park is suffering from vandalism, and that park needs to be treated with dignity and respect,” Rogers said of the park at 217 S. Lincoln St. “There comes a point where we need to be responsible and we need to teach people the behavior we want in our communities.”

The goal is to raise $17,000 to help the city pay for ornamental fencing that would surround the structure housing the Liberty Bell replica. There would be a gate in front that would allow the Clallam County Veterans Association access to the bell for its bell-ringing ceremony, held the last Friday of every month.

City Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said the city has not made a decision on whether to put up fencing, but said it will be discussed at the Parks, Recreation and Beautification Commission meeting at 6 p.m. April 18 at the City Council Chambers, 321 E. Fifth St.

If the parks commission makes a recommendation, it would likely go before the City Council during one of its meetings in May.

Delikat said the way people are treating the park frustrates not only the city’s maintenance staff but also citizens who want to spend time at the park.

“People feel like they can’t enter the park,” Delikat said. “They don’t feel safe. They don’t feel it’s being respected.”

Delikat said that if the city does decide to put up an Echelon decorative fence, it would cost between $15,000 and $18,000.

The issue came up during a public comment session at a City Council meeting in November. At the time, City Council members agreed to discuss the issue at a future meeting, and a sub-committee was formed to explore the issue.

Ninette Swanson uses a leaf blower at Veterans Memorial Park in Port Angeles on Monday. Community members are raising money to help the city of Port Angeles build a fence around the bell. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Ninette Swanson uses a leaf blower at Veterans Memorial Park in Port Angeles on Monday. Community members are raising money to help the city of Port Angeles build a fence around the bell. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Delikat said that committee met once and that discussions picked back up again recently.

“I told citizens if they feel like raising funds, I would take it to the April Parks Commission meeting and see if they want to forward a recommendation to the City Council,” Delikat said.

The park has become a popular spot for people who are homeless or who have no other place to be during the day. People there Monday said the shelter over the bell and the benches makes it one of the few good places to go.

But even the people who go to the park every day, including veterans, are fed up with how some people are behaving and have made efforts to keep the park clean. It’s a never-ending battle, they said.

Among them is David Conner, a man who became homeless after having medical issues last year. He said he goes to the park every day because he has no other place to go.

One of his uncles died in World War II, he said, adding the park is a place people go to reflect on those who have given their lives for the country.

“The tourists come here, and we tell them about the history of the bell,” he said. “The tourists can’t feel like this is an armed encampment. It’s a memorial.”

Conner became upset as he discussed some of the vandalism, drug use and disrespect he has seen at the park, but he doesn’t believe putting up a fence is the right solution.

“I showed up here on Presidents Day and somebody had taken a crap right here and put candles in it,” Conner said. “I became rather upset and I still haven’t calmed down.”

Desarae Jefferies, who also goes to the park every day, is also upset at how people have been treating the memorial. She tries to keep it clean, she said, but sometimes arrives in the morning to find the park is trashed.

Jefferies said she has seen photos of herself that people have posted to Facebook as people discuss the issues at the park.

“It’s humiliating for all of us,” she said. “The people who are doing it don’t realize they are affecting all of us here, and it gives all of us a bad name. It’s degrading on all of us because we’re not the ones doing it.”

Jefferies said she doesn’t use drugs and that at night she either couch surfs or stays at a shelter. She said when people cause problems, she and others have no issue calling the police.

She became frustrated Monday as a man opened a can of beer that he had accidentally dropped, causing it to pour onto the ground at Veterans Memorial Park.

She said that wouldn’t be fair to the veterans, but said it was “understandable” if a fence is installed around the bell. Still, she doesn’t want to see a fence put up.

She thinks people will still go to the park if a fence is added, she said, partly because there are few other places to go.

“We have nowhere to go,” she said. “They’ve taken the benches out of everywhere. Yes, I believe we’ll still be here.”

There is criticism that putting up a fence will only force people who are causing the problems to go elsewhere; however, Rogers said something needs to be done to protect the park from vandalism.

Rogers lauded the efforts of people who are working to connect people to services, but said “leaving people on a street corner or vacant lot isn’t compassion.”

“Groups have done an amazing job and need to continue to help people get to the services they need,” she said. “It’s a complex problem, but we have to take it one step at a time.”

She said she also is thankful for volunteers have had dedicated their time to keeping the park clean.

Donations toward the fence can be dropped off at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce at 121 E. Railroad Ave. Checks can be made payable to the City of Port Angeles.

Rogers, a Chamber board member, said the city and chamber are not sponsors of the fundraising effort. She said a GoFundMe page would be launched for the effort.

For more information, contact Rogers at 360-460-5995 or email her at karen@karenrogersconsulting.com.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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