Saturday, June 29, 2013

Here Comes The Sun, and Olympia's New West Central Park

Above: Alicia Elliott greeted folks all day, and answered questions about her vision for the new park as musician Mike Burdorff looks on. 
by Janine Unsoeld

New Yorkers may scoff at the ambitious sounding name for a new grassroots-driven park on Olympia's Westside, but many people today certainly felt like it could be that other Central Park, minus the mature trees. 

Although hundreds of cars passed by the busy intersection of Harrison and Division, they were hardly noticed as people hung out for hours, visiting artisans, seeing old friends, making new friends and meeting neighbors. More than one person was heard to say that the just over half acre piece of land feels much bigger when you're standing in the middle of it.

Alicia Elliott, the visionary woman who recently bought the previously vacant lot for $450,000, is moving fast. With a team of dedicated volunteers, the space that almost became a 7-11 mini mart was today transformed into a bustling community scene of musicians, artisans, food vendors, picnic tables, flower planters, and yes, two conveniently placed portable toilets equipped with sinks at the far end of the lot.

And it's just the beginning. Park project volunteers anticipate and encourage future local events, including craft fairs, music, art and dance shows at the location, and just offering a place to visit with friends and meet neighbors.

On June 12, the Park received its non-profit status from the State of Washington, making fundraising easier. The goal is to raise $152,500 for grading, utilities, buildings, landscaping, a water feature, benches, fencing and more. This low estimate is based on the fact that 50% of the supplies and labor are being donated by several area businesses and artisans.
Elliott and volunteers have also established a Friends of West Central Park membership plan. It is open to all, however, satisfying one or two board membership requirements, such as living within 10 blocks of the park, or attending three work parties, for example, enables members to achieve a position on the board of trustees or the board of overseers. Membership will meet once a year and are essentially the shareholders of the Park.
The Park also received some good news in the financial department just three days ago: When Elliott first bought the property, she was required to either pay a fee to start a water account or prove the existence of a previous account at the property. She paid the fee. Although there hasn’t been a building on the site for 16 years, there had been an account there at one time, so the City of Olympia agreed to refund her deposit of $3,200. The money will go toward the Park's fundraising goals.

Above: Woodworking artisan Brian Anderson planes a piece of spalted maple today in West Central Park.
Today, Brian Anderson of Anderson Woodworks demonstrated his craft, as he planed a piece of spalted maple. "Spalted basically means when a tree is starting to rot," he said. Anderson said he gets his maple from a source in Rochester. "I try to get wood locally, although I do get some exotic wood. Most of my products, like my cabinets, are Forest Stewardship Council certified products. Self-taught since 1996, he said his learning curve was quick. "I learned from my mistakes...I try not to make things out of alder, for example, because it's so unstable."
Above: Kelly Rigg demonstrates the art of blacksmithing.
Kelly Rigg said he did blacksmithing as a hobby for about 14 years, but started his business, Big Hammer Technology, about four years ago when the economy tanked. He makes small crafts, such as coat hooks as well as large, commissioned works. He recently completed and installed a forged gate to the Lincoln Elementary school garden. Asked by an observer if it was hard for him to pound the steel, he said, "It doesn't take muscle so much as technique. Every hammer blow has a purpose," and produced a little seahorse.
Above: Tucker Petertil and Sue Hastings demonstrate the art of mosiacs.

Above: With a lot of vision and hard work, West Central Park takes shape.
For more information, go to A history of the Park development is in the Winter 2013 edition of the South Sound Green Pages at