At the March 24 Tulare County Supervisors’ meeting a group of concerned citizens spoke out during public comment about the condition of Mooney Grove Park. The group, affiliated with The Real Mooney Grove Project, gathered before hand to protest in front of the chambers.
Amy Dickenson from Visalia said she felt that the park, if maintained, could be just one more asset to make Visalia a destination city. She pointed out that the county employees who work at the park can’t keep up with the maintenance.
Dickenson said that there are only three maintenance workers and that they have expressed the need for at least six. One is just assigned to clean goose droppings, another to mow the lawn and a third to do general maintenance. The largest eye soar, though there are many, she said, is the pond. If her child accidently fell in, she would need a panel of tetanus shots, she said.
She further suggested that the county send a water specialist to advise the maintenance crew how to keep it clean.
Chuck Berry, another speaker, said that he was sure that they could organize a group of volunteers to clean up the park.
Supervisor Phil Cox had warned at a previous meeting that Mooney Grove needed a lot of work on its infrastructure that would take time and money and that they were not going to open the gates to a group of volunteers equipped with hammers and screw drivers.
Berry said that the pond was a disaster area full of junk and stagnant water.
The drought is partly to blame for the condition of the pond. But there are several parks in the San Joaquin Valley with beautiful lakes and ponds from which the supervisors should seek advice, he said.
Mary Bryant, founder of The Real Mooney Grove Project, said that after one year of talking with the supervisors and coming before the board only two sparsely attended meetings on Mooney Grove have taken place. Those two meetings revolved around the 20-year-plan, that is a beautiful document, but that won’t be implemented until most of the Mooney Grove advocates are dead.
Bryant expressed that the group involved in the project is tired of waiting for a response to their offer of doing maintenance, restoring and repairs. One of the men ready to help with repairs was the owner of the construction firm that build Mooney Grove’s boat house.
“What it appears to us is the county does not want the park. If the park is such a burden, then allow the people who do care for it to take over,” said Bryant.
She also wanted to address the issue of the General Manager Neil Pilagard’s honesty.
“He has not been truthful to us or to you. The fish pond/fountain he said could not be repaired, and would cost $80,000-$150,000 to restore. Yet a video of the pond was sent to a specialist in Los Angeles who said ‘Mr Pilagard is full of… He said, ‘I have restored these fish ponds all over California that are a lot older and in much worse shape than this one.’ A piece of cake, and for a fraction of the cost,” Bryant said.
“The rowboats, Pilagard said, ‘no demand, and were stolen and vandalized.’ Not true. In 1978, 42 rowboats were sold for $500. He said that the concrete tables/benches were made defective. Again not true. They were damaged when work furlough and inmates crashed into them while riding a tractor to empty the trash cans. If the General Manager cannot be truthful to his Superiors, and the park is still a mess, there is no place in the future for a person in management with no integrity,” she said.
John McGill, who is a 51 year resident of Tulare County, said that Mooney Grove is for the people. Just like the pristine landscaping outside of the chambers is a reflection of the supervisors, Mooney Grove is a reflection of the tax payer. McGill went with his dad to the Oklahoma museum to visit the End of the Trail statue. Next to the statue is a plaque commemorating Mooney Grove Park where it used to stand.
McGill said that nationally the park is an ambassador for the city. McGill couldn’t understand how a county that is number one in agriculture, that feeds the world, can’t get it together to take care of a park.
Each commentary revolved around one question. Why has Mooney Grove been allowed to get into the state it is in now?
No discussion about Mooney Grove takes place without locals looking back at their childhood. McGill said that he had so many good memories as a kid and that the condition of the park really bothers him. When his dad was in town visiting recently they went to Mooney Grove. The only thing McGill’s dad could say was that he was really glad they moved the End of the Trail statue to Oklahoma.
Berry said that, as a COS student, his art class would go out and do watercolors of the bridges, lake and statues. Now there are just broken pedestals, benches and walkways.
Everyone realizes that the zoo and carousel aren’t coming back. They just want a beautiful place to take their children and grandchildren, and say this is where we played in the old days before Facebook and Netflix. Mooney Grove doesn’t need a pie in the sky 20-year-plan with a Wild West Main Street and a remodeled museum. The park just needs to be a beautiful public space, the speakers said.