OAKHURST – For over a year now, one dedicated group of people has volunteered their time and energy, sometimes even risking their own safety, to coalesce as concerned citizens to patrol the Oakhurst Community Park.
The park, once envisioned as a safe haven for children and families to gather and play, is believed by many to have been overtaken by vagrants and drug abusers who refuse to follow park rules and have finally jeopardized the well-being of park caretakers to the point that safety program Friends of the Park has decided to forgo their usual mission.
Jeremiah Tompkins made the announcement today on the Facebook page for Friends of the Park, an open group currently showing about 400 members.
Tompkins is the son of Flint and Cher Tomkins. The elder Tomkins has been instrumental in the Friends of the Park organization since the get-go.
“I want to let everyone know that the Friends of the Park are not going to be in the park,” Jeremiah Tompkins wrote. “They have faithfully been serving our community for about a year and a half. The Friends of the Park have put themselves in harm’s way to provide a safer community, but they no longer feel safe to be there.”
Tompkins continued on to praise the group of community servants, whom he says wish they could continue monitoring the park as they have in the past.
“Threats have been made,” according to young Tompkins, “and they feel they need more back up. The same people that are causing trouble are still there causing trouble no matter how many times the police have been called.”
Madera County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Erica Stuart released this statement to SierraNewsOnline in response to news that Friends of the Park would no longer be in the park.
“Over 2 years ago the Madera County Sheriff’s Office implemented mandatory patrol checks in Oakhurst Park. In spite of our limited resources, every deputy sheriff assigned to the mountains understands why this is critical, and as a result have made sure patrol checks are made at least twice during each shift,” says Stuart.
“Since that implementation, our deputies have made numerous arrests, but because the park is a public place, and therefore open to the entire community, even those we arrest have the right, by law, to access it,” says Stuart.
“We understand the frustration felt by the Friends of the Park and everyone who has enjoyed the benefits of Oakhurst Park, which explains why we created additional beat checks. We simply do not have the resources to assign even one Peace Officer to the park full time for the express purpose in warding off potential criminal activity.”
It appears as though all parties, including parents, volunteers and law enforcement, are on the same side, wanting a safe and protected park, yet may lack the resources to accomplish that deceptively simple goal.
After the posting by Tompkins on Friends of the Park’s Facebook page, the thread received numerous comments thanking Flint and his ministry and all the people who’ve helped out to try and keep the park safe for everyone. Many of those commenting were mothers of children who rely on the park as a safe and comfortable place to play and hang out together.
“I’ve been going there off and on since Riley was a baby,” says mom Nikki Lewis of the community park, with its swings, slides and gazebo. “We loved it there, but over the last few years things just kept getting worse.
“Many times we would go there but the stench of marijuana was so overpowering we would just leave.”
She says when the Friends of the Park came they were “ecstatic and were able to feel comfortable again.” Lewis says the community will be “heartbroken” over the absence of Friends of the Park.
On the organization’s willingness or ability to watch over the park in the future, Jeremiah Tompkins said that may be possible.
“They are willing to continue their service if they are given the tools to keep the park safe but until this happens they will no longer be there.”
Tompkins closed the post by offering these words as a “personal shout-out” to his dad: “You were very inspiring. I am very proud of you. Much love.”
Meanwhile, amidst expressions of sadness and thankfulness from people who have appreciated all that Friends of the Park has done, Flint Tompkins posted the following which seems to be a call to action, and is most definitely a call for prayer:
“Thanks everyone for the words of love and encouragement. We had a good run; 13 months. I had an amazing team, thanks everyone on the team and everyone with the courage to come back and use the park. If nothing else we showed the community what it could look like, now let’s see what the community will do.”
He encourages everyone to “keep praying,” as “none of this could have occurred without the power of The Lord.” says Flint Tompkins.
In a “final” hurrah and hallelujah, organizers are planning a 6 p.m. Worship in the Park for Saturday, Aug. 31. Stay tuned for details. Anyone with questions is encouraged to visit Friends of the Park Facebook page.