By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

The Downtown Bend Public Library’s pocket park is open again after being closed for a month because of criminal activity, vagrancy and nuisance issues in the park.

But the space is missing a few things since it reopened: three benches and its grassy lawn.

“We took out some of areas where people could gather, and it’s worked out really well,” said Todd Dunkelberg, Deschutes Public Library director. “The biggest feedback we’ve gotten is from parents bringing their children to story time. They’ve told us they’re happy to have a more welcoming environment and that they feel safer on their way into the library.”

The park, which isn’t much more than a short walkway between the library administration building and the library, was relandscaped in the month that it was closed. The grass was replaced with soil and drought-resistant plants. Boulders in the park were rearranged, and most notably, three benches that were donated by patrons to the library were removed. Sitting in the park is no longer an easy prospect, as plants and boulders inhabit the areas where grass used to grow.

The changes are a consequence of, and a solution to, the park’s past issues with some criminal and behavioral problems that increased over the past year. Drug deals allegedly took place in the park or nearby. The place was frequented by as many as 60 people at a time, and there were complaints that they harassed library patrons and staff.

“We’re not really in the parks management business,” said Kevin Barclay, the library’s assistant director. “What we do well is manage a library. We have well-trained staff in our libraries. But we don’t have well-trained park staff.”

With the increase in disturbances, a task force of officials from the library, city of Bend, Bend Police and nonprofits related to homelessness was formed to come up with a solution to the issues plaguing the park. The library closed the park in May to deter criminal activity, enclosing it with yellow tape and employing a security guard from a private firm to secure the area. During the closure, the park was returned to its original “xeriscape” state, featuring low-maintenance plants and natural terrain.

Since reopening the area three weeks ago, the problems at the library’s pocket park have just about disappeared, Barclay said. Because there is nowhere left to congregate in the area, the park sees few people, and few problems. There is no longer a need for a security guard.

Though criminal activity at the park is no longer an issue, the task force is continuing to meet once a month, Barclay said, to address these same issues in the rest of downtown Bend.

“We didn’t just want to kick this down the street to make it somebody else’s problem,” Barclay said. “We want to make the downtown area safe and welcoming for everyone. Everybody’s coming to the table to find solutions.”

And while the removal of the benches was a significant part of solving the park’s nuisance problems, at least one of the donors was sad to see her bench taken out of the park.

“I was one unhappy camper when I found out,” said Kay Coyner, a Bend resident who donated a bench. “The fact that that had to be done because of problems of people using the area is very disturbing to me. People waiting for the bus down there don’t have a place to sit anymore.”

Coyner, along with her daughter, Kathy Blake, donated the bench about 15 years ago and paid $500 for it at the time. Coyner has been volunteering with the library and at Friends of the Library book sales for about 28 years, she said, and donated the bench as a memorial for friends and family who had passed away.

After removing the benches, which had seen their share of wear and tear over the years, the library reached out to donors to see what the next step should be. Coyner suggested the library give the benches back to the families. Coyner received her bench Friday and plans to put it in her backyard.

“It’s the sad part of life because you think something will last forever, but it doesn’t,” Coyner said.

“But I guess I get to have a piece of the library’s history now.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354,