Look up who owns a grassy park off Sunset Beach Road stocked with aging playground equipment and you’ll get the enlightening answer: “Public The.”
No commas, no explanations.
Public The has owned the park — advertised on an old wooden sign as “Sunset Beach Park by Neacoxie Lake” — at least since the late 1990s, according to Clatsop County records.
The neighbors who live across the street and look at the park every day don’t know who Public The is. They long suspected it was the county because, every few years, jail work release crews would sometimes show up to mow at the urging of Seaside Police Chief Dave Ham.
But the county doesn’t own the land, according to Tom Bennett, a county spokesman. The property is classified as vacant municipal or port property. Plain old public land.
But it doesn’t really matter. For years, neighbors have taken on the work of maintaining the park themselves.
This year, one particular group decided to take a more active role.
“We had the time, and we’re looking at it every day,” said Bob McNamee, shrugging. And what they were looking at, he said, “was kind of sad.”
McNamee, who lives across the street from the park, and his neighbor, Ravi Croak, are some of the people leading the charge on improvements.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, they have recently repaired collapsed benches and picnic tables, repainted and repaired the basketball court and hoops, and made sure an old slide and swingset are safe for kids.
Now Croak has dreams of making a horseshoe pit — he has the horseshoes to donate — and repairing barbecue pits that have fallen to pieces. McNamee would like to have things like basketballs and soccer balls on hand so kids can just show up and start playing. Maybe some more picnic tables, some more benches. They are also researching the cost of installing commercial dog waste stations.
“When I was a kid I used to like to play in a park,” Croak said. “Too many kids are inside these days. I don’t like to see a park so ignored and neglected.”
The neighbors are on the hunt for people with more expertise for certain types of repairs. A dilapidated floating dock down at the far end of the park also remains a concern.
“The whole thing’s shot,” McNamee said, testing a loose board with his foot. Entire pieces of board are missing in spots.
Croak and McNamee would like to do something about the dock — or just tear it out if no one official is responsible for fixing it — but they worry about liability.
“It’s only going to fall on the person trying to do good, the way I see it,” Croak said ruefully.
But he is encouraged by the response he has seen so far to simpler improvements at the park. He’s not sure exactly how many minutes it took for local kids to show up after he repaired the basketball hoops, but, he said, “as soon as I walked off the court, they were on it.”
It isn’t the first time residents have taken the initiative to deal with issues at community sites.
In March, a Warrenton planning commissioner and her husband brought a homeless camp full of trash to the Port of Astoria’s attention and helped clean it up.
Last year, the Astoria City Council approved a slew of park adoption agreements with residents who had stepped up wanting to care for neglected parkland. The adoptions resulted in more useable spaces, community movie nights, volunteer gardening days and other events.
But Sunset Beach Park involves no formal agreements with any government. For years, one neighbor or another would take it upon themselves to mow and cut down weeds along the edges.
For several years, Ham was one of them, coming down with his riding mower to carve out space around the play equipment so kids didn’t have to play in the tall grass.
Residents have always used the park, Ham said, but the improvements have led to a surge in activity.
Sunset Beach Road is an important artery. Buses from Seaside and Astoria stop here. Locals and tourists alike use the beach access at the end of the road. An RV park and campground with a small store operate across the street from Sunset Beach Park. A cafe and coffee shop is set to reopen on the corner.
In all of this activity, the park could have a bigger economic role to play, McNamee said.
“The park should have some more attention,” he said. “This area is such a draw.”