Fundraiser will benefit effort to re-open sculpture park in Tenino

Organizers of a fundraiser this weekend are working to re-open an iconic park in south Thurston County.

The Monarch Art Center and Sculpture Park closed at the end of 2012 because the property owner could no longer keep up with maintenance and expenses.

Two nonprofit organizations have stepped up to fill the void. The Creekside Conservancy is trying to acquire the 80-acre park for permanent preservation, while the Woodland Trail Greenway Association wants to build a trailhead and rest stop at the park.

The biggest obstacle to re-opening the park, however, is money. From 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, the organizations are co-sponsoring a fundraiser at the park. The event will feature an art auction, food, live music, prizes and more.

Creekside is a land conservation and environmental outreach organization that has preserved 1,000 acres in south Thurston County, said director Chanele Holbrook.

“Monarch is kind of the hidden gem of south Thurston County,” she said. “We don’t plan for the next 10 years. We plan for the next 50 to 100 years. We’re thinking of the big picture.”

Holbrook hopes Saturday’s event will renew excitement about the park while helping Creekside move closer to acquiring the property from owner Myrna Orsini. Holbrook said the goal is to re-open the park by summer 2015.

Volunteers need to raise about $15,000 to handle permits and related fees before re-opening the park, said Jack Horton, president of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association.

One goal for the association is to turn the sculpture park into a destination for bicyclists along the Chehalis-Western Trail, Horton said, noting that Monarch is a two-hour bike ride from Olympia. He said a site plan for a rest stop and trailhead will be available at Saturday’s event.

“What we’re really hoping will come of all this is that south Thurston County will start to become a mecca for agritourism and bicycle tourism,” Horton told The Olympian. “The vast majority of visitors to that park are going to be people already on the trail. Based on time I have spent at the park, for every person that comes in a car, there are probably eight or nine people who come on a bicycle.”

According to the county, agritourism refers to any activity that attracts visitors to a farm or ranch. In March, the Board of County Commissioners created the Thurston Bountiful Byway, a 60-mile route intended to promote tourism in rural areas.