City Recognizes Sankey Park Improvement Project Donors

Benny Westcott

Saturday featured lots of activity at Sankey Park, with a Sankey Park Phase 2 Donor Celebration that also included the official naming of a portion of the park Graybill Plaza after longtime Sweet Home city employee Joe Graybill, who retired in February from the role of staff engineer.

The Phase 2 project made a number of significant changes to Sankey Park. It brought playgrounds, benches, lighting, paths and restrooms, as well as the newly named Graybill Plaza and improved parking lots.

“The magnificent transformation of our park is impressive,” Sweet Home Mayor Susan Coleman said. “You can be proud of yourselves for carrying on the torch that the Sankey family started when they created this park. It’s a great thing to see the park restored to its original intent. Together we have made this dream a reality, and what we have accomplished here at Sankey Park is a symbol of our community’s strength, heart and boundless potential.”

Coleman and City Manager Kelcey Young unveiled a plaque honoring more than three dozen Lower Sankey Park Improvement Project donors as part of Saturday’s celebration.

Another focus of the ceremony was Sankey’s Weddle Bridge, which city staff say could use some love. Park and Tree Committee Chair Wally Shreves said that a few years ago, it was determined that there are some structural issues with the bridge that need to be addressed. An engineering firm determined that several pieces of the bridge’s substructure, several foot boards, and the roof will need to be replaced. Shreves also said that general painting is needed.

In light of this, there will be a fundraising event for Weddle Bridge at the Oregon Jamboree, which takes place Aug. 3-6.

“We have money already put aside for it in the city funds that we’ve been adding to every year, but we need to get a larger proportion to get started on [bridge upgrades],” Shreves said.

A history of Weddle Bridge was presented by 95-year-old former Oregon House and Senate member Mae Yih. Yih, a longtime Albany resident, was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1976. At that time, she became the first Chinese born woman in the United States elected to a state legislative chamber. She was later elected to two more terms in the House and five terms in the Oregon Senate. In 1993 she became the first woman to serve as president pro tem of the Oregon Senate. Yih retired from office in 2003.

Yih was instrumental in creating the Oregon Covered Bridge Program, which played a huge role in the relocation of the Weddle Bridge to Sweet Home from Scio.

In 1987, a concerned citizen in Scio called Yih expressing his opposition to the slated demolition of the 50 year Weddle Bridge in Scio.

In preparing to speak at a rally against the demolition of the bridge that year, Yih learned that Oregon was home to 49 covered bridges, the most of any Western state. But she was alarmed to discover that, despite Oregon’s prominence in the statistic, 49 bridges actually represented a relatively small number compared to the 300 covered bridges in Oregon in 1937.

“It was obvious that covered bridges were becoming an endangered species,” Yih said. “I concluded that covered bridges needed to be maintained so that future generations could enjoy them.”

So Yih was able to help author and pass legislation for maintenance of bridges and obtain funding to pay for their repair.

The Weddle Bridge was actually demolished – the Scio citizen who had spoken to Yih chained himself to a bulldozer to try to prevent the demolition but was unsuccessful, and he was later arrested – but it was reassembled and restored in Sweet Home, marking the first success story of the Oregon Covered Bridge Program that Yih had advocated for.

In addition to making improvements to the bridge, the city plans to make more additions at Sankey Park.

Shreves said that part of “Phase 3” of the park’s improvement plan will be construction of a sidewalk running from lower to upper Sankey Park, as well as a soft trail connecting the two.

The plan is also to put in a new bandstand that will additionally serve as a community center, after the city council voted to do away with the park’s current historic bandstand, which was struck by a falling tree and suffers from structural damage. In current renderings of the proposed new bandstand, the structure would be wooden and slightly elevated, with power, electricity, ADA access, trails running to it, and lighting. The goal is for the structure to be used for family reunions, weddings, bands, or general community events. Terraced ground would be a feature near the bandstand to aid in viewing.

“I really look forward to this community center going in, because the small gazebo that we have works well, but for larger events that I’ve seen people have here, this will be a definite boost to people in this area,” Shreves said.

The ceremony wrapped up with Graybill being given a certificate of appreciation “For the recognition of his hard work and dedication to the parks and the city, and to honor him by naming Sankey Park Plaza, Graybill Plaza.”

Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen said, “His fingerprints are all over Sweet Home. Many of the improvements that you see throughout the city went through his desk and have his touch on them, especially this park. Joe was instrumental in designing the improvements that you see around you, especially the plaza.”