Long before events like Chingawassa Days made Marion’s Central Park the semi-retirement home to once wildly popular acts like Three Dog Night (which was a great concert here, by the way), Marion came close to being on the other side of the ladder of musical success when, 55 years ago, it turned down a request from a substance-abusing, has-been country artist to perform, basically for free, as part of his supposed comeback.
Had that powers that controlled Central Park scheduling at that time given more than five minutes of consideration to the request, relayed by a former resident turned drinking buddy of the down-but-not-yet-completely-out star, one of music’s classic ballads might have featured Marion County Jail instead of Folsom Prison in its title. Although he never ended up performing here, Johnny Cash was indeed considered — and rejected — as a potential Central Park performer.
There’s no indication that legendary folk-rock artist Jim Croce ever made a similar request, but if he had spent any time visiting Marion’s crown jewel, he undoubtedly would have added another line to his lyric: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit in the wind. You don’t pull the mask from the old Lone Ranger. . . .”
And you don’t mess around with Central Park.
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Separate developments this past week have spurred considerable discussion among those who view the park more or less the way politicians view Social Security — as politics’ third rail, which if you touch you die.
The first was a rather innocent change. Flattered by positive feedback about the unusual red-green combination of lights they installed on the iconic three-globe lights across the Luta Creek crossing and into the park at Christmastime, city crews experimented by mixing a pattern of red, white, and blue bulbs in three globes of each of the classic light stanchions.
Whether you regard it as a beautiful act of patriotism, meritorious of the Fourth of July, or as something more reminiscent of the dubious namesake of Ramona’s Fourth of July celebration, it provoked considerable attention — though not as much, perhaps, as did the appearnace of a backhoe adjacent to the park’s beleagured gazebo.
City crews now are working on Phase I of the project to install a new stage and restroom complex in the beating heart of Central Park. The backhoe isn’t breaking ground for that project, which still is attempting to raise money. But it is preparing to move a lift station used by the gazebo to allow for that construction. And suddenly there’s a plan not to demolish the old gazebo (which technically isn’t gazebo) but rather to put it on a forklift and move it, once the new stage and restrooms are constructed, to the west side of the park, near a planned boat dock.
To those, especially newly arrived city officials, who constantly talk about being agents of change, it’s Step One in a project to bring needed services to the park and encourage its greater use. To others, especially long-term residents, it’s yet another attempt to cover virtually every inch of nature’s beauty with less than enduring structures of questionable actual value. In short, what’s classy to some is hidebound to others; what’s progress to others is tacky to some.
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We don’t pretend to have the wisdom of Solomon nor the desire to attempt to divide the beloved baby that Central Park has become to all concerned, but we do most respectfully suggest that both sides cool it with the rhetoric about how one group or the other is either standing in the way of progress or trying to mark its territory like a some feral male cat.
Love the colored lights or hate them, eagerly anticipate the stage and restrooms or dread them, now is not the time to confine your opinions to whatever coffee klatch, Facebook page, or lunchtime Chautauqua you frequent. Instead of sniping, one side against the other, talking only to like-minded individuals, it’s time for dialog among all sides.
Central Park is indeed a crown jewel for Marion, as are the last remaining stone buildings — which, though more expensive to maintain, are of much greater lasting value than whatever new structures government might prefer to invest in instead.
Truth be known, we actually are far less alarmed about what the city plans to do with the park than we are about the short-sighted, deal-only-with-today attitude of county officials whose lack of long-term foresight is clearly demonstrated by how well they have managed the county’s infrastructure of roads.
The only thing that’s clear to us is that, the more people quietly snipe about government plans without volunteering their own time, energy, and money to become part of the solution, the more they become part of the problem.
— ERIC MEYER