Chehalis Neighbors Rally to Give Historic Park a Facelift


Norma Szabo grew up playing at Westside Park. Today, she is its neighbor. Szabo has watched generations of families enjoy the small green space in Chehalis’ Westside neighborhood. In recent years, she said she noticed the park started to look like it needed a little tender love and care.

“I’d sit over there and there’d be all kinds of kids and not much for them to play on,” Szabo said.

A couple years ago, Szabo posted on Facebook that it would be nice to see somebody do something about Westside Park.

“I came back and said, ‘Well, you’re somebody,’” recalled neighbor Dave Eatwell, eliciting laughter from both Szabo and Eatwell.

That’s how the Friends of Westside Park group was born. Now an official 501c3 nonprofit, the group is working in conjunction with the City of Chehalis to help this little piece of local history get a much-needed renovation.

Westside Park was originally built in 1894 as the playground for the Westside School, which served the Chehalis community until it was damaged in an earthquake in 1949. It is one of six parks owned by the City of Chehalis.

Andrew Hunziker, parks and facilities manager for the City of Chehalis Parks and Recreation Department, said the city has an annual maintenance schedule that ensures that available parks money is evenly distributed between all facilities or when safety becomes an issue due to natural disasters or other unexpected damage.

“Adding new stuff is difficult when you’re trying to keep up with what you have,” Hunziker said.

The City of Chehalis first started working with the Friends of Westside Park group about two years ago when the city applied for grant funding that would have upgraded Westside Park. Unfortunately, that grant funding did not come through, but Hunziker said the process brought out a number of interested neighbors who wanted to be part of making Westside Park better. Hunziker said some of the top concerns neighbors have raised include the park’s lack of safe parking areas, the lack of fencing and other safety measures and the fact that as old equipment broke over the years, it was removed and not replaced.

“We continued to talk with them about their needs and wants with that park,” he said.

Hunziker said the Parks & Recreation Department is currently working on a plan that would: improve parking, add fencing around the entire park and add a play toy for ages 2-5 in the area currently occupied by the two spring toys. Once Parks and Recreation has credible bids for installation of these additions, the plan would then need to go to the Chehalis City Council for approval and funding before work can begin.

The Westside Park Board hopes to raise money to be able to fund more equipment beyond the city’s scope of work. Some of the ideas they have discussed include revitalizing the basketball court, adding ADA accessible seating, adding a walking path through the park, replacing the swings and monkey bars with play structures that are more suitable for older children, adding bathroom facilities and/or drinking water fountains and creating a community message board area.

They have no idea yet what they will be able to add at Westside Park, since preliminary estimates for some of the play structures they have researched range from about $50,000 to nearly $200,000 without installation and items like benches and message boards can cost about $1,000 to $2,000 each without installation. Any park additions will also need to be approved by the City of Chehalis. Still, members of the Friends of Westside Park feel positive that the community may begin to see some type of work at the park in the near future.

“By this time next year, people will be able to see the progress,” Szabo said.

Top candidates for equipment chosen by the Friends of Westside Park feature a nature theme and board members want to keep the function of the Westside Park primarily aimed at the needs of those living in the neighborhood. Board treasurer Katie Heinrichs said that while many people picture the Westside Neighborhood for its large, historic homes, there are a large number of apartments, as well as older homes that have been broken up into multi-family housing, making a green space essential for many of their neighbors. 

“I think nature spaces are super important,” she said. “Not everybody lives in a house with its own yard.”

Representatives from the city have had several meetings with the Friends of Westside Park to help guide the process, including offering assistance with understanding permitting and infrastructure issues that could be triggered with some upgrades. Partnering with community groups like the Friends of Westside Park is a fairly common occurrence, said Lilly Wall, recreation manager for the City of Chehalis Parks and Recreation Department. From the Babe Ruth fields at Stan Hedwall Park to both versions of Penny Playground and the revitalization of Alexander-Lintott Park, many park upgrades happen through these partnerships, she said.

“That is usually how our projects go, with some sort of partnership,” Wall said. “I don’t know if it is the same everywhere but we’re very fortunate in Chehalis to be able to partner with these groups.”

After receiving its nonprofit status this year, the Friends of Westside Park group has held a few fundraisers for its cause, including during this year’s Seattle to Portland Classic bicycle race event. They set up a PayPal link where people can donate directly. They were also able to get Westside Park listed on Lewis County’s historic registry, which could help its chances of receiving grant funding, something they plan to pursue soon.

Unfortunately, because records were lost in a 1910 fire at the Westside School, the park does not qualify for designation on the National Historic Registry.

Friends of Westside Park has also received help from other local groups, such as members of the Baha’I Faith from the Vader area, who have helped with several efforts at the park. Through Eatwell, the Twin Cities Rotary has also gotten involved in the project. The group had previously built picnic shelters at the park and more recently made repairs to the shelters and picnic tables.

“Rotary looks at it from the point of view that here’s this community group that comes together and they have a good, solid plan and they are committed to see it through,” Eatwell said.

How to Help

Friends of Westside Park is looking for volunteers, donors and sponsors

Find them at Friends of Westside Park on Facebook or contact them via email at