8:20 a.m. PDT September 8, 2015
At Labish Village Park, a county park just outside Salem city limits, there is a small playground with a slide and hand bars. There is a basketball hoop and a small shelter under which children can stand when waiting for a school bus in the rain.
There is an open field for kids to play soccer or baseball, but space is limited. The 1-acre park is surrounded by neighboring houses and a wastewater lift station. The equipment is dated, much of it rusting, and simply not enough for the local kids to play on, according to residents in the area.
But while residents of the area argue the park is being neglected, officials who oversee the park said they are fighting for the park but have limited resources.
Sandy Brinley, 61, moved to Labish Village nearly 40 years ago and has been working to improve the park ever since. She argues the park is being neglected and is in need of many improvements.
Russ Dilley, parks coordinator for the Marion County Parks Department, is the only Parks Department full-time staff member, working alongside only one other part-time summer temp.
Dilley said the Parks Department is doing everything it can to take care of and improve the park, but the department is running on few resources and other parks have to take precedent right now.
As a Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts leader, Brinley organized volunteers to take care of the park for 10 years after she moved to Salem. She collected donated equipment for the park and took care of the property in accordance to county standards. The park was originally owned by another Labish Village resident but was donated to the neighborhood for the sake of the children when that man died.
But in 1986, 10 years after having moved to the area, Brinley said, Marion County told her that the equipment was not up to standards and would have to be removed.
It was replaced with other equipment, which is now dated and not well maintained, Brinley said.
Additionally, with no fence on the back and front sides of the park from the street, neighbors have reported motorists driving through the park and doing different driving stunts in the field at night.
“There are more than 150 kids in the area,” Brinley said. “They have to go into town right now to play on a nice park.”
Dilley, who has worked for the Parks Department for 10 years, said the park used to be close to Lake Labish Elementary School, which was closed years ago. The closest open school, Dilley said, is several miles away and located in Salem or Keizer.
Brinley said she is worried about the children who have to walk to other nearby parks at surrounding schools. To do so, they have to cross busy roads and highways.
Dilley said he is aware of the concerns these residents pose, but the Parks Department has few resources to spread among the 18 county parks he alone oversees.
Each day, Dilley spends hours going around to the parks he oversees, maintains and advocates for, covering a couple hundred miles every morning.
Some parks he makes it out to every day. He goes to other parks that are smaller and less populated, like Labish Village, about three times a week.
He has partnered with the Marion County Juvenile Department so they can get more people to mow the parks in less time. He said during mowing season, which was March through June this year, he has people mowing all the parks every two weeks. Along with other county parks, these juvenile crews help with litter patrols, mowing park turf, maintaining trails, and removing invasive species, such as blackberry bushes.
Since the Board of Commissioners started taking proposals for park projects two years ago, Dilley has been advocating for parks that he knows need new equipment or other materials and resources.
“The park is not neglected,” he said. “Labish is in the queue, but other parks have had to take precedence.”
Dilley has submitted a proposal to get Labish Village more funding and new equipment, but he can only submit two to three proposals every calendar year to the Board of Commissioners, and they will only select one. He said the proposal for Labish Village was not chosen this budget cycle, but it is in the queue to be resubmitted next year.
He said that while Labish has some outdated equipment that needs to be replaced, projects that affect the most people and that have the greatest need will be selected. For instance, Labish Village was passed up in the last project selection by Scotts Mill Park, which didn’t have any equipment until the recent funding.
Dilley also said there will be a Parks Master Plan meeting with the Board of Commissioners later this year. There they will discuss safety concerns, playground equipment, deferred maintenance, signage issues, and more, facing county parks.
“This discussion will drive to some degree the budget requests we make for next year,” he said.
Having raised seven children in her Labish Village home, and now with 17 grandchildren, Brinley said she is dedicated to making sure more children can enjoy the park the way her children have in the past.
The neighborhood has a small committee that meets to discuss issues specific to the area, but many of the parents in the village work long hours or multiple jobs, so the committee is limited and lacks resources, even to have a neighborhood watch.
They said that they do not see the park officials maintaining the park; that they rarely mow and that even when they do, it is not thorough; and that they have left dangerous, rusty equipment out in the open. And no school has adopted the park to help take care of it since Lake Labish Elementary did, Dilley said.
Until the funding comes through, both Dilley and Brinley will continue to fight for the park. Dilley said he is dedicating all the time and resources he can to help the park, but he also has other county parks he has to consider. Brinley and other neighbors said they are now hoping and praying that something will happen to get more funding and equipment for the park.