The Real Mooney Grove Project, a non-profit organization in Visalia, started its meeting on June 29 by sharing fond memories of the Mooney Grove Park of its heyday. The organization is compelled to return the park to its original state for families to enjoy.
“I swear, I could almost hear the park screaming ‘please don’t let me die,’” non-profit president Mary Bryant said about her 2014 visit to the park. This was her motivation to found The Real Mooney Grove Project.
Bryant was born and raised in Visalia and has had the opportunity to experience all that the park was and now isn’t. Bryant, and others in the organization, hated seeing the park being mistreated and decided they would join forces to restore it.
In the past, cooperation between city officials and Bryant’s organization has been hard to develop. Although, with new leadership in the county, Bryant is confident things will look up for her non-profit and Mooney Grove Park.
On June 13, members of The Real Mooney Grove Project attended a general services meeting where they presented their mission and vision for Mooney Grove Park to parks directors and other county officials. At first, Bryant and her grant director, Gary Siegentholar, were hesitant about the meeting. They were unsure if it would be a hostile environment like that of past meetings.
To their pleasant surprise, Bryant said, the board was welcoming and supportive of their ideas.
According to Dan Veyna, a landscape architect working on the 20-year Master Plan for the park, Mooney Grove was originally donated to the city to be an oak preserve for the enjoyment of Tulare County residents.
This 20-year renovation plan was presented to the public in 2014 by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The renovation plan included museums and other flashy additions to the park that, according to Bryant, “strayed from Mr. Mooney’s original intentions for the park as a picnicking area and oak preserve.”
The goals of Bryant’s non-profit do not always align with the county’s 20-year plan. For example, the organization believes in restoring historic buildings rather than building over them.
Bryant has long advocated for saving the concessions stand that currently sits vacant. Her vision includes a functioning space with an updated kitchen that can be rented out to groups or organizations. In addition, she hopes to decorate the walls with old photographs of the park throughout the years. This is one of the projects her organization will prioritize.
At its most recent meeting, the board slated certain items of the park that need immediate attention. Community member and veteran Lary Parker said he “hopes we can just make the park as accessible for everybody as possible.”
Parker is specifically referring to the elderly and disabled in that statement. When visiting the park, he finds walkways to be uneven, which makes it easy for someone to trip and fall.
The main concern voiced at the meeting was the prioritization of the veteran’s memorial that lies bare.
Bryant said there used to be plaques featuring the names of Tulare County veterans who gave their lives in war. Lacking the proper maintenance, the plaques eventually started to decay, so the parks department decided to take them out. The non-profit’s number one priority is to freshen up the memorial with new plaques listing names of those from Tulare County who were lost in the armed forces.
Various people at the meeting belonging to veteran’s organizations voiced their support for this and wanted to provide financial support.
The second aspect of the park the group would like to focus on is the bridge stretching over the lagoon. This bridge was built in 1919, and it needs to be sandblasted and repainted Siegentholar said. The organization hopes to finish this project and celebrate its renewal on the one-hundredth year anniversary coming up next year.
Cameron Creek flows through Mooney Grove Park, but has long been stagnant, allowing bacteria and algae to form. In the lagoon, it used to be popular to rent rowboats. But, currently, the rowboat service is non-operable, and the lagoon has sat unattended to for 20 years, according to Bryant.
It is now filled with algae and dead fish. Signs decorate the side of the lagoon discouraging park goers from getting close to the lagoon due to its toxicity. The organization hopes to drain and repair the lagoon.
Bryant also hopes to have a fence lining the park with a security system. Siegentholar, who is in charge of applying for and earning grant money, said this will not only help maintain the quality of the park, but it will increase the chances of earning grant money.
“It shows we have a plan to keep the park in an operable safe place,” Siegentholar said. He then explained that people are more likely to fund projects that endure long past the individuals who start the project.
The organization’s last endeavor is to partner with local elementary schools and involve kids in replanting the Valley Oak trees in the park. This has been a community concern with the park in the past, as several oaks have been taken out of Mooney Grove.
Valley Oaks have a shallow and widespread root system. This makes their roots more vulnerable to foot traffic that may compact the soil around their roots. In addition, as the water table drops, they suffer from drought. This could be the reason for the loss of the Mooney Grove oaks in recent years.
Toward the end of the meeting, community members and directors alike decided the next step is to create a clear mission statement outlining the organization’s goals. Parker also pointed out that it might be beneficial to present cost estimates to county officials. He said he would help Bryant with these things.
The Real Mooney Grove Project will hold its next meeting at the Mooney Grove Bridge on July 20 at 10am. They encourage any community members to come and support the ongoing effort.