Fighting Back in Union Park

City officials, police hope improvements will help deter illegal activities at site known for disturbances
The city of Medford plans to renovate Union Park this fall. A community garden, night lighting, pathway improvements and more playground equipment should help make the park more family-friendly and less intimidating, officials say.Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Troubled Union Park in west Medford — sometimes referred to as "drug park" — is set for a makeover this fall as city officials search for ways to discourage criminal activity.

A community garden, night lighting, pathway improvements and more playground equipment should help make the park more family-friendly and less intimidating, officials say.

The improvements will be made thanks to a $162,000 community development grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"It's about time," said Cody Groves, an 18-year-old who hangs out at the park. "I'm surprised they want to do stuff with this park."

Groves said he thought the city had forgotten about the 1.38-acre park at 501 Plum St., east of Columbus Avenue.

"Everyone knows this is the park where bad stuff happens," he said.

The park is in a neighborhood that has seen its share of high-profile crimes this year, including two stabbings and three drive-by shootings.

Groves said that despite the problems in the park, families still use it. He said the feature he would like to see the most is a new playground.

The renovations, planned by Medford Parks and Recreation, are also welcomed by Medford police, who vigorously patrol the neighborhood.

"I'm encouraged that there are improvements on the horizon," Deputy police Chief Tim Doney said.

He said he was chasing a suspect wanted for a parole violation through the park Thursday. After the suspect was arrested, a resident approached Doney, thanking him for the police presence.

Doney said residents want a safe park, and the improvements planned will encourage more family-friendly activities.

"The larger number of people engaged in law-abiding behavior makes those who are misbehaving leave," he said.

The park was built in 1959 and was designed by John Adams, the architect for Crater Lake National Park, according to Medford Parks and Recreation. The original master plan was only partially completed.

Rich Hansen, chairman of the Medford Parks and Recreation Commission, said it has been a goal of the city to improve Union Park for many years.

For similar reasons, the city has eyed improvements at Hawthorne Park, which has also seen its share of criminal activity over the years. Hansen said there is a difference in the problems at both parks.

"Union Park is in a rough part of town," Hansen said. "I wouldn't say Hawthorne Park is in a rough part of town."

He said some of the ways to help a park overcome criminal behavior include providing adequate lighting and making paths visible from a distance.

Councilor Karen Blair, who lives in west Medford, said she will be glad to see the work begin on the park, particularly the long-promised community garden.

"I just hope they get it done quickly," she said. "It's been a long time coming."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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