Union Park makeover will take community effort

The city plans to add lighting and activities to a west Medford park known for crime and vandalism, but a parks commissioner says neighbors' continued efforts will be the key to saving the park.

The Parks and Recreation Commission decided Tuesday that more lighting and more programs and activities should be planned for Union Park, at Plum and Prune streets. Parks Commission Chairman Jerry MacLeod said there would be no quick fix.

"It's got a reputation that's going to take awhile to live down," he said. "Until people are willing to accept the park as a safe place to go, no one will use it."

MacLeod credited neighbors and police with recent improvements.

"Things have been pretty positive," he said. "You've got to keep it going."

But a longtime neighbor who's put up with drug dealing, late-night noise and vandalism behind her house said the parks commission actions were not enough.

"I am not very happy with this at all," said Georgia Adams, who attended the commission meeting, adding that she would like the city to take more control of the park's entrances.

The commission's discussion is the latest in city efforts to reclaim what has been dubbed "Needle Park" by locals. Neighbors say Union Park's history of drug dealing and vandalism has made it an unfit place for area residents.

In the past two months Medford police have increased patrols and made several arrests related to narcotics, fighting, graffiti, loud noises and disorderly conduct. The city's Neighborhood Leadership Academy class organized a "Take Back Union Park" event Saturday, which drew a crowd of about 300 people.

Adams, who has lived in a house adjacent to the park for 61 years, said she would like the city to close off an asphalt path from Hamilton Street to Plum Street that bisects the park. She said the path, which runs alongside her property, is used as a shortcut by passersby, not by park users, and she'd like the park to be more contained.

But Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun said there are no plans to close the path because it provides access to nearby Washington Elementary School.

Adams said increased lighting and activities in the park were good ideas, but she'd like to see even more from the city.

MacLeod said the proposals were just first steps for reclaiming the park and that the city was considering long-term plans.

"This is not a done deal," said MacLeod. He said possible solutions include putting a community building, with parks department staffing, in the park.

The Parks and Recreation Commission recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for approval. No date has yet been set for the council to consider it.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.

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