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Storm the Gates

A Fight's Brewing in Colonel Summers Park

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LINDSEY WALKER doesn't talk to "corporate media." But as she looked over a bright expanse of Colonel Summers Park on Monday evening, July 8, anger betrayed principle.

Walker first offered only a terse comment on Food Not Bombs, the group she works with serving free meals at the park on Mondays and Fridays. And she grudgingly showed off the red brick pavilion where the organization's volunteers set up shop in inclement weather. The city's parks bureau is talking about fencing the shelter off.

Soon, Walker wasn't even trying to stop herself.

"We've been fucking oppressed in this fucking park for a year and half," she said, voice echoing out from the pavilion to the grass where people were finishing their food. "They're full of shit. They're lying."

Perhaps more than any other city park, Southeast Portland's Colonel Summers has for years been a magnet for the city's many subcultures. On this Monday, two men fenced with plastic swords near the tennis courts, and a group practiced hula-hoop routines nearby. There was kickball, of course, and bo staffs in evidence.

This year, Colonel Summers is also shaping up as something of a battleground.

The city's parks bureau says the 5.9-acre plot has become a problem area, replete with underage drinking, drug use, and occasionally serious vandalism—three portable toilets have been set on fire, as has a bench.

But the bureau's strategy for combating those problems is drawing backlash. Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) has stepped up ranger patrols at Colonel Summers this year, pleasing neighbors but spurring claims of unfair treatment from Food Not Bombs organizers and patrons.

"Thousands of people use Colonel Summers Park every year, and the vast majority of them use it appropriately and positively," parks spokesman Mark Ross wrote in an email. "Our goals are to ensure that the park is safe, accessible, and welcoming for all park users."

He added: "Regarding the Food Not Bombs folks, our staff has stressed to them that their work is one of the activities that PP&R and the community welcome and support in the park."

Parks has held two meetings with neighbors about Colonel Summers. At another meeting set for Monday, July 15, staffers will take the public's temperature on more possible changes, such as trimming back the park's large bushes to increase visibility and removing a set of stairs. Most controversially, the parks bureau has also floated fencing off the pavilion, giving access only to permitted parties.

"Parks and rec wants bars not food!" Walker announced to around 25 people gathered near the pavilion on Monday, sampling the night's fare (tofu pad thai, bean salad, greens, and fruit salad). "Spread the word. Let everybody know."

Across the street, Chris Boothby was watering the garden in front of his brown-and-white, two-story home. Asked how he likes living near Colonel Summers, Boothby said: "It sucks sometimes."

Ever since he moved in nine years ago, he said, noise has been an issue at the park. He's got no problems with what goes on there during the day—he sees Food Not Bombs, for instance, as a boon—it's just he needs his sleep. Until recently, Boothby, 61, said he called the police roughly once a week about people in the park after its 10 pm closing. "It's been a whole lot better this summer, because the police have actually done their job for a change."

Boothby says he opposes closing off the pavilion. Other neighbors, meanwhile, wonder whether the increased ranger and police enforcement isn't enough, whether the city might be overreaching on suggestions to physically alter Colonel Summers.

"I've been very skeptical of this plan, and confused," said Susan Lindsay, chairwoman of the Buckman Community Association. "Most of all confused. I guess I feel like they're going this way because it's just easier to fence it off."

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