Bayer Park marks grand opening as a cultural crossroads in southwest Santa Rosa

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Santa Rosa’s newest park in the heart of a multicultural Roseland neighborhood made a colorful debut Saturday, with a celebration that embraced a dozen ethnic groups living in the surrounding area.

Hundreds of people attended the ribbon-cutting and festivities at Bayer Neighborhood Park & Gardens, once a 6-acre farm that still has a barn and some of its agricultural roots, but recently added playgrounds, a skate park, basketball court, volleyball and picnic areas.

“This park sustains this neighborhood and our whole community in many, many ways and it will continue to do so for many generations to come,” Mayor Chris Coursey said.

Nanette Smejkal, Santa Rosa’s Recreation and Parks director, called Bayer Park “a treasure,” the latest addition to a portfolio of 70 parks in the city.

Plumed Aztec dancers backed by loud drumming kicked off the Saturday afternoon party in front of a pavilion with three outdoor ovens — an Eritrean Mogogo stove and two others specially designed to cook Mexican and Chinese traditional foods.

The Santa Rosa Symphony Simply Strings Orchestra wielded violins and cellos on “Ode to Joy,” and twirling Ballet Folkorico Jazmin dancers rounded up the bill.

The walls of the park pavilion have murals designed by artist Mario Uribe and linked by a dozen circles decorated with traditional folk art from five continents.

“We wanted to reflect what’s going on here,” Uribe said of the rich neighborhood diversity, “how well they work together and cooperate. It’s a real democracy.”

He said residents ranging from kids to grandparents helped create the murals in a paint-by-number pattern he provided.

The total cost to acquire land, design and construct Bayer Park added up to more than $13.3 million, city officials said. The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the state provided grants to help with purchase and development of the park, located at 1550 West Ave.

The Bayer site has a community garden operated by LandPaths, which partnered with Santa Rosa after the city acquired the property in 2007. The gardens and educational programs are aimed at helping neighborhood children — many of whom are low income — enjoy agriculture and healthy food.

Craig Anderson, Landpaths executive director, said it’s “tilling the soil and sowing hope.”

The role the organization has played at Bayer Park has allowed it to expand beyond its traditional mission of building hiking trails and providing access to rural open space.

Bayer Park, Anderson said, has made LandPaths part of an urban community, a story of “regeneration and hope.”

In one of the nearby plots, the Solis family was busy Saturday weeding their vegetable garden, which will be planted with garlic, corn, tomatoes, chiles and zucchini.

“It makes it easy to eat their veggies if they grow their own,” said Xochilt Solis, whose two children, aged 12 and 14, were helping out.

Edmund and Lillian Bayer, who sold the property so it could be transformed into a park, also were present Saturday.

The family had a farm there for about 60 years, raising cows, sheep and pigs.

Edmund Bayer, a retired state chief veterinarian, said he could have gotten more money from developers who wanted to build homes on the property.

Instead, “he wanted something nice for the community,” said his wife, Lillian.

“This preserves kind of what I grew up with,” said their daughter, Dana Bayer. “The barn’s still there. I played in the barn.”

Cathy Johnson, a part-time waitress who has lived in Roseland for 17 years, was sitting at a table enjoying the sunny day and watching people.

“It’s nice,” she said. “I think they needed a neighborhood park. It’s really pleasant.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas

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