Park gift catalog available in Oak Harbor

The question comes up all the time.

What’s the best way to honor a loved one, or close friend, in one of Oak Harbor’s numerous parks?

“Everybody asks and we can’t always give them the proper answer,” said Dee Harbour, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Well, now, such answers are easy to find in the city’s first ever Park Gifts and Memorials Catalog.

The catalog, which is available at City Hall, Oak Harbor Library and at Greater Oak Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, inventories each of the city’s 30-plus parks and public open spaces.

The park board has come up with a list for each park, outlining what, if anything, can be donated in someone’s name.

Depending on a person’s pocketbook, those donations can be as unassuming as a shrub or as grand as a group picnic shelter.

“People can make up their minds as to what they would like to buy, and what they can afford to buy,” said Helen Chatfield-Weeks, who serves as the city’s park board chair.

Shrubs run from $20 to $300, while a drinking fountain might set someone back $2,000 to $3,000.

Big-ticket items include group picnic shelters, which carry a price tag ranging anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000. A simpler gift, a grove of three to five trees, costs $350 to $500.

Oak Harbor has had a parks gift program for years. A simple walk around local parks shows plenty of benches dedicated to well loved community members, as well as trees and other pieces of flora and fauna, park furniture and facilities.

Large park projects have proved particularly popular, said city Parks Manager Hank Nydam.

At Fort Nugent Park, for example, some $100,000 was donated in money and material toward building baseball, soccer and football fields on 20 acres off Fort Nugent Road.

In the past 10 years, many people have donated money toward trees that line Highway 20 as part of the city’s greenbelt.

“Most of those trees were purchased through donation,” Nydam said.

Donors paid about $200 for each tree and were provided a dedication plaque to place next to the tree, Nydam said.

Still, having a catalog will likely make donations to the city’s parks that much easier.

“What the gift catalog does is identify needs,” said Nydam, who has worked for Oak Harbor’s Parks Department for 21 years, the last 10 as parks manager. “If someone wants to contribute, they have a resource and can look around to see what’s out there, and pick and choose. The catalog shows the needs within the parks so we don’t end up with 50 park benches in one park.”

The city has about 100 acres of developed parkland, and another 60 acres that is considered undeveloped. Many of the parks are smaller, neighborhood pocket parks.

In recent months, the parks board has had several people interested in placing memorials on city-owned parks and public land. But it remains an open question, at this point, whether any of the current requests will be granted.

Indeed, the city can be a bit choosy about what goes into its public parks, despite someone’s best intentions.

The look and landscaping of each of the parks is critical, city staffers say, and what is placed in a particular park must be for the benefit of the general public.

Also, open space is considered precious and the city strives to keep such places as uncluttered as possible, Nydam said.

Ultimately, it remains up to the City Council to approve any substantial gifts or memorials. Typically, the Park Board reviews the request at two separate public meetings before recommending approval or denial of any plans.

Of course, some donation requests are simpler than others. Placing a park bench at a park where that’s an identified need is “pretty cut and dried,” Nydam said.

More difficult are proposed donations that stray outside the list, or come with ongoing maintenance requirements that must be met by the city’s Parks Department.

In some cases, the city has closed off certain parks to additional gifts or memorials.

Those parks include: Koetje Park, Shadow Glen Park, Meadow Ridge Park, Well Site 10, Ridge Haven Park, Ruth Cohen Park and Vista Heights Park.

“We feel they are fully developed,” Nydam said.

But he added, “This is an ongoing project. The gift catalog will be updated each year.”

And that means some parks that aren’t on the list this year, might be included next year.

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