Tenino-area sculpture park closes

Many issues, including finances, maintenance and county compliance, forced her to shut doors, owner says

ckrotzer@theolympian.comJanuary 6, 2013 

Citing public safety and county compliance issues, the owner of a Tenino sculpture park decided to close at the end of 2012.

The 80-acre Monarch Contemporary Art Center and Sculpture Park was opened by sculptor Myrna Orsini in 1998. She was inspired by parks she’d seen during a sculpting symposium in Europe.

“They had outdoor exhibition space for when we completed our work,” Orsini said. “I thought, ‘Well, why can’t I do that in my own state?’”

Orsini purchased land in 1994 and 1996; she has lived on the property and maintained the sculpture park ever since.

The park features 115 pieces from local artists and others as far away as Ukraine. The most popular pieces include the Sound Garden, which has instruments for visitors to play, and the Prayer Tree, where guests can leave prayers behind. Orsini said she typically burns the prayers every new year.

“I had to stop reading the messages because they were so poignant,” she said. “Many dealt with terminally ill family members, those who were in Iraq and Afghanistan, things like that.”

But keeping up with the park’s expenses and maintenance over the years became too much. Medical issues also were a factor in closing down.

“It’s operated out of my own pocket, which has gotten very thin,” Orsini said. “I haven’t been able to physically maintain the park as it should be kept.”

Debris and damage from January 2012’s snow and ice storm still litter the property. Recent flooding has caused more maintenance work that Orsini said can’t be done by volunteers alone.

Members of the Woodland Trails Association, as well as other volunteers, routinely help with maintenance on the site.

Orsini approached Thurston County commissioners in June 2011 with the hope of donating the park to the county.

“I didn’t think I was going to find a buyer for the park, and I created the park as a gift to the community, and I wanted it to continue as such,” Orsini said.

Both she and county officials hoped the donation process would be simple, but it was not. County staff surveyed the park in summer 2011 and found several issues that would have to be addressed before another entity, county or otherwise, could legally take over the park, said Cliff Moore, county Resource Stewardship director.

Orsini doesn’t have a special land-use permit for the park, which is on land zoned for residential use. The property also would require upgrades to the water and septic systems, which are currently limited to single-family home capacity, Moore said.

During the discussions, the county allowed Orsini to keep the park open.

“There were so few people going out there, we said that while we are in this conversation, the compliance issues will be held in abeyance,” Moore said.

Moore said the county wants to work with Orsini and find a way to keep the park available to the public.

“A lot of people in the community see it as a really neat place, and I agree,” Moore said. “It’s a really unique attraction, and I would love to see it open and available and operating appropriately with all the permits, public health and safety issues addressed.”

Orsini said guests at the park ranged from as many as 1,500 during an open house night to a handful on a regular visiting day.

She did not charge admission.

Talks between Orsini and the county continue, even with the park closed. While the county might not be interested in operating it, Orsini said she’s had interest from other agencies.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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