Garrett Cooper may not know everyone who visits the Artesian Commons, but he wants to ensure that everyone at the park knows him.
Cooper was hired in May as the “well host” at the park, which is home to the historic artesian well at 415 Fourth Ave. E. From Tuesday through Saturday until Oct. 15, Cooper spends his work day promoting positive activities — such as books, basketball and a giant chess board — while also keeping the peace.
The position is part of an ongoing plan by the city to reduce negative behavior at the park, which is a popular hangout for the street community. Users of the 0.2-acre park have drawn criticism because of vandalism, smoking and unwanted behaviors since the park opened in May 2014.
Cooper has lived in downtown Olympia for 11 years and previously worked at the Timberland Regional Library. He believes the park can be a place where people from all walks of life can mingle together in a neutral space.
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Another goal is to keep the area near the artesian well clean and clear for the people who come to get water from the well.
“Our main goal here is to keep it positive and safe,” said Cooper, a retired Army veteran. “Once people get it stuck in their minds that this is a bad place, then it’s a bad place.”
Cooper is joined by park ranger Lee Wyatt, who focuses more on enforcement and compliance with the park’s rules. Together, the duo has worked to cut down on drinking and drug use at the park while also dealing with conflict resolution.
Wyatt praised Cooper for the rapport he has developed with park users.
“Everyone knows him,” Wyatt said. “There’s been a lot of respect from people in the community.”
The well host and ranger positions are seasonal. About $30,000 was allocated to the program by the city, and the two positions will return to active status next spring.
Olympia park ranger Sylvana Niehuser said the Olympia Police Department has been assisting with enforcement at the Artesian Commons. She said that since Cooper and Wyatt started monitoring the park in June, only one person has received a 90-day trespass order to stay out of the park, and that was for an assault.
Results from the program will be reviewed later this year with the Artesian Leadership Committee, a group of city and service organization leaders.
In the meantime, Cooper and Wyatt say the atmosphere at the park is getting better. Programming such as a summer concert series has helped bring families with children to the park, they said.
“We’ve got a good camaraderie with everybody,” Cooper said. “This park here is a community park, and it’s for the whole community.”