A Lot, In Common

A Lot Takes Shape With The New Etna Beautification Project

Danish architect Jan Gehl once said, “A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves.” The same could be said of civic spaces in any town. Just ask Mary Kay Herold, a board member of the Etna Beautification Project, which has been instrumental in converting an abandoned lot into an enriching public place in downtown Etna (population 800).

Originally the site of the historic Hadcock Hotel, the building burned down in the 1990s, leaving a gap on Etna’s Main Street. It was an empty lot of concrete rubble covered in weeds and brambles for some time. “I always thought something
would come of that space on Main Street, but my hopes were dimming after 19 years of neglect. It was a perfect spot for anything and yet totally overlooked,” recalls Herold.

The Etna Beautification Project started in 1999 as the work of local artist Janice Gaynor, who dedicated time trying to improve the overall look of Main Street. In 2018, a larger group joined the effort after much of the community came together for a visioning event that elevated desires to transform the little lot into a community space. In an effort to more effectively fundraise, the Etna Beautification Project formalized into a nonprofit in 2018. Volunteers worked hard as the lot was cleaned and cleared and slowly began to take form. They transformed the space with donated, upcycled materials, starting with landscaping bricks, tree bark and sweat equity. Even a little public library was built to accompany the transformation. “I have always been open to community work, but it can be hard to find a good fit. The lot is a really nice fit for me as I enjoy gardening.” Herold jokes as she adds, “You better enjoy the work since the pay isn’t great.”

“A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves.”

Development of the lot also developed a sense of togetherness and pride for the community. Not only did it enhance Main Street visually, but it provided a new forum for public activities and a place for people to enjoy themselves. “All of us are so encouraged to see people using the space. Etna offers so many great coffee shops and restaurants, it’s a convenient place to share a coffee or a meal,” Herold notes. Especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it continued to provide a place downtown for those who wanted to engage more safely outdoors.

Social events in the space have been a great way to get people to engage with one another. Since 2018, volunteers with the Etna Beautification Project have worked during summer months and the town’s numerous street events to make the lot a celebratory gathering place. During events like Jammin’ On Main and the Etna PAL Christmas Party, the lot has featured everything from free food to activities for all ages to pop-up performances. Tables with umbrellas and the stage have added to the versatility of the space, giving a place for everything from musicians to nights of whimsy, which have included Shakespeare readings and storytelling. In 2020, the lot was trenched and connected to the city water system, thanks to RB Aldrich Construction, which served as an important milestone for adding trees and landscape.

Many people don’t realize the lot is owned privately, not by the city of Etna. Herold notes, “I wish the community would take a little more ownership, but they seem to think the city owns it and so it can be taken for granted.” But this doesn’t deter the Etna Beautification Project’s plans for continuing to make improvements. “The landscaping in the back is flourishing and we hope to add to it as the trees grow and provide more shade.” Herold also has some visions of her own for the space. “I really want to build a brick walkway through the park with a large mandala back on the west side. Handicap accessibility is of primary importance and a brick path would make that possible.”

Herold’s pride in the group’s hard work to make it a place for everyone is clear. “My favorite memory is a moment when a dad was walking his little girl through the park. She slipped her hand out of his grasp, ran up on the stage, performed a little dance and then hurried to catch up to her dad. A moment of stardom,” she says. Turns out, there are some stars that make a stage bright, and others that bring light to their town. •

Etna Beautification Project • 419 Main St., Etna

About Megan Peterson

Megan has been a freelance storyteller for more than two decades, with writing credits ranging from National Geographic to the Sundance Channel. She also brings a background in marketing and audio tours and has traveled and worked on six continents. Megan currently lives in Siskiyou County with her family and a menagerie of pets.

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