For Denise and Patrick Thompson, the Beaver Creek Park shooting in May was the “last straw” — they already had other concerns about the safety of the park, which is just a short walk from their home.
In that May 24 incident, an 18-year-old man instructed his friend to shoot him in the leg with a shotgun to escape military duty, according to police reports. His friend then ditched the gun and fled on foot.
“Obviously he lived in the neighborhood and thought, ‘Let’s go to the park to do this,’ Denise said in a city of Kenai Parks and Recreation work session on Sept. 6. “Why would he think that?”
Thompson, 34, said he and his wife became concerned with the nature of the park shortly after they moved to the Thompson Park neighborhood from Ninilchik in 2004; the park even prompted their move to the neighborhood, he said
“But the past two or three years a lot of shady business has been going on over there,” Patrick Thompson said in separate interview, referring to drug deals.
“You’ll see (people in) cars here talking to each other,” he said, “and then we’ll show up and they’ll take off.”
“And then the next day you’ll see a family of three,” said Denise Thompson, 32.
It does not feel like a safe place for families, they said.
The main problem, the Thompsons said at the work session, was the park’s seclusion, and Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates agreed.
“When I go there, I don’t see the same people twice,” Frates said.
The park serves a distributed population, Frates said at the work session. Subdivision residents from Beaver Loop, Thompson Park and Valhalla Heights, among others, recreate in the park.
It sits in 15.45 acres of forest — about two of those acres developed for the park — and it is accessible from the Kenai Spur Highway that runs past its north side. Parkside Drive also runs past the west side of the park, but Denise said it is traveled infrequently.
She said she tries to drive it often to chase off the park’s unsavory visitors.
As a solution Frates said his department will remove the three islands of dirt that hide cars, clear brush and other undergrowth, and limb low tree branches.
Frates also plans to fell all beetle-killed or leaning trees along the park’s perimeter.
Frates said the planned action will improve the park’s overall visibility, hopefully discouraging the nefarious traffic.
That work is planned for sometime this fall.
The Thompsons are not the only neighbors concerned with the park.
Denise Thompson gathered 47 signatures on a petition from other Thompson Park residents. She said for many of the other residents, the May shooting was the last straw for them, too.
Even children are afraid, she said.
Two nephews who live with the Thompsons told their aunt they had to hide one day in the jungle gym while people allegedly dealt drugs.
Another child told her she doesn’t play in the park because it is scary.
But the Thompsons are happy with the planned improvements.
“Really, since writing the letter, I’ve been impressed with how the city’s responded,” she said, referring to an email she wrote to the city council addressing her concerns following the park shooting.
Some of the city response has been regular park maintenance, Frates said, but Denise Thompson is still happy with the attention the park is receiving.
She said the sand in the playground is new, and the bathroom, which had been a canvas for graffiti, was recently repainted.
The tree canopy along Parkside Drive and the highway has also already been raised.
“I’ve seen more city presence this year than any year,” she said.
When park quality becomes a community concern, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said, the city needs to know.
“We have no better way to know how the parks work in a community other than listening to a neighborhood that that park is in,” she said.
In the future, the Thompsons said they would like new equipment for the park.
The current playground, composed of two stacked tubes, is “a maintenance nightmare,” Frates said in the work session; they have accumulated diapers before and often trash.
Denise said it’s frightening to let children in them.
“That thing could disappear tomorrow and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” Frates said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.