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Restoration takes flight

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Volunteers Cameron Radcliff, left, and Kaleb Rigby work at the community garden in Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Trea Connor, with the city of Phoenix, works on rebuilding the playground at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix.
Community rallies to restore Phoenix park ravaged in Almeda fire

Much of Blue Heron Park in Phoenix was destroyed during the Almeda fire two years ago.

Since then, the community has pulled together to resurrect the park and its community garden. Installation of children’s playground equipment should begin in April.

“The bottom line is we’re back,” said Sandy Wine, a Master Gardener who is on the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee and the ad hoc committee for the park.

She said the park should restored by the time summer arrives.

All the trees were destroyed during the fire and are being replanted. After the playground equipment is delivered, it will take over a month to install it.

She said the destruction of the park isn’t as serious as someone losing a home, but the return of the 24-acre green belt along Bear Creek, which was part of the city center revitalization, is a welcome sign of Phoenix’s ongoing recovery.

Altogether it will cost more than $500,000 to restore the park, which has brought in donations from local businesses as well as a lot of volunteer work.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide $374,600 for the rebuild, while a Business Oregon grant will provide a match of $124,866. FEMA requirements limit the work it will fund to the original playground footprint with similar structures.

The fire spared the bandstand, picnic table pavilions and bathrooms.

Wine said FEMA has helped a lot to get the park back, including pulling out all the old stumps.

Other local organizations and volunteers have helped with blackberry removal.

The community has also helped with the rebuild, including donations such as $5,000 worth of pavers from Home Depot and a $5,000 commitment from Umpqua Bank for benches, Wine said. Pacific Power has helped with tree replacement.

With the threat of fires looming over Southern Oregon, the park is being rebuilt with fire safety in mind, including the removal of blackberries and not using bark on the playground.

At the previous playground, bark helped fuel the Almeda fire, but the playground surface will now be covered in rubber tiles.

The park is also being redesigned to be more accessible to the disabled.

The community garden is also being restored, Wine said.

“We’re going to build back better,” she said.

Eric Swanson, Phoenix city manager, said the city has created an ad hoc committee to help raise money for items that fall outside the main grant sources.

Eight different companies are involved in donations and making specific improvements at the park, he said.

A grand opening of the new park, which is accessible to residents, should take place in July, Swanson said.

“The existing playground was great, and we’re sorry we lost it,” he said. “But we’re getting a brand-new playground with fire-hardened materials and better ADA accessibility.”

Matias Mendez, superintendent of Phoenix Public Works, said some 20 trees were lost around the playground area alone, but along Bear Creek hundreds were destroyed.

The park was built in 2005 along with other improvements to streets in Phoenix.

Mendez said that at least $500,000 has helped put the park back together.

“I’m pretty sure more is going to come in,” he said.

The main things left to do on the park are the playground and landscaping, Mendez said.

“It will be like new again,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.