Poulos Park is a popular place. Located in the 200 block of Paonia's Grand Avenue, it's a place to eat lunch, meet friends, or hold a public event. Each December the Town of Paonia marks the holiday season with a tree-lighting ceremony.
Poulos Park was named after the family of the late Tom Poulos, a one-time owner of the park property and other downtown properties including the Paradise Theatre building.
Paonia Rotarian Sarah Bishop refers to Poulos Park as "this jewel in the middle of town."
Rotarians have a special interest in the park. In 2005 the Rotary Club of the North Fork (then the Rotary Club of Paonia) adopted renovation of the park as its "Rotary International Centennial Project." They collected $40,000 in private donations and in 2005, turned a gravel lot into an inviting park.
"I personally am proud of how well that park has held up over the years," said Bishop.
In June, Rotarians cleaned the park up in time for the July 4 Cherry Days celebration. They trimmed shrubs and trees, and picked up some 30 gallons of dead vegetation, cigarette butts, bottle caps, candy wrappers and broken bottles scattered throughout the park. In August, Bishop reported the efforts to the town board of trustees.
"We hope the park looked presentable for Cherry Days and we hope you thought so as well," said Bishop.
But the park needs more than tidying up. It needs a facelift. Over the years much of the vegetation, including a memorial cherry tree located on the east end of the park, has been damaged or destroyed. Decorative iron work installed in the "truth window" of the straw bale wall at the back of the park has been yanked out. A concrete table located beneath a towering spruce tree has been gouged, burned and covered with graffiti, and the massive spruce tree has a burn mark on it, as if someone is trying to set it on fire.
"The damage is severe," Bishop said, "but, we believe, recoverable."
In July, Rotary members voted to look into working with the town on a renovation project. They drafted a proposal and began consulting with town staff about assisting with the facelift. Plans include installation of motion-sensor lighting in the back of the park, installation of signage, upgrading of the irrigation system, repair of the wall's stucco surface and truth window, planting new vegetation, removing graffiti, and touching up the mural on the park's south wall.
The proposal was slated to come before the town board of trustees at the Sept. 12 public meeting, but was removed from the agenda after Rotarians learned that two fires were intentionally set in straw bale wall at the back of the property -- one on the afternoon of evening of Aug. 20, and the other on Sept. 4. A large hole was cut in the wall in order to extinguish the first fire, and was expanded to extinguish the second.
"Rotary is very concerned about the vandalism," said Bishop. She wonders if the destruction of the park property might be "a symptom of something bigger going on in town."
Rotary would like to engage the public in the renovation, "just as it did 10 years ago," Bishop told trustees. "But we want to be assured by the town that those who are bent on destroying the park have been apprehended and the destruction has ceased before we invest time and money in the project."
"The Rotary club stands ready to develop community support for making Poulos Park safe and attractive for all visitors to the town," said Bishop. "What will the town, and particularly the Police Department, do to help us achieve that goal?"
"I can tell you that both the town and the Fire Department are taking the issue very, very seriously," said Mayor Charles Stewart.
(Disclosure: Tamie Meck is an honorary Rotary Club member and has helped clean up trash in Poulos Park.)