By Tim Walker
Garden Station, an art park and community gardenlocated in downtown Dayton not far from the Oregon Historic District, featured murals, sculpture and community garden plots and over the years it has hosted weddings, concerts, markets, drum circles and even Shakespeare in the Park.
The garden, created entirely by a dedicated group of volunteers, was a beautiful space where all citizens were welcome to come and relax, create, plantfood and express themselves in the company of like-minded souls.
From 2008 until 2016, the project grew and developed as the Dayton Circus Creative Collective, which created the garden and leased the space from the city, continued to work to improve it. The collective had signed a lease on the property with the city in 2008 and then renewed it in 2010 with the extension lasting until Dec. 31, 2015.
“I spent some time in Germany several years ago,” says Helm when asked about the genesis of the project that has occupied so much of her time. “And it was right after I moved back here from Europe. While I was over there I did a lot of backpacking around and worked on a couple of farms, did a lot of youth hostels and stayed with people through hospitality exchanges. It’s just a more sustainably focused culture, it’s a much more community-focused culture, definitely less ‘consumer mentality.’”
“Coming back here everything seems so consumer focused and the only thing that really matters here is making money,” continued Helm. “I felt like this area especially was really behind the curve when it came to the idea of sustainability. People don’t get it. They don’t understand why it’s important to take care of our planet and take care of our community. It’s all about making money. Basically, Garden Station was the grassroots sustainability movement in Dayton. Our Earth Day festival was attracting 4,000 to 6,000 people, we were teaching 70 classes per year on do-it-yourself sustainable living, canning, dehydrating and preserving your food, organic gardening, raising chickens, solar panels … all that stuff.”
In March of 2016 the city of Dayton notified the artist’s collective that the lease on the Garden Station property had been transferred to City Properties Group, a land developer based in Lexington, Ky. The developer has plans to redevelop that area to create Oregon East, a lifestyle district that will connect with and expand the popular Oregon Historic District. City Properties Group has already begun work on converting the vacant industrial building at 210 Wayne Ave., located next to Garden Station, into 40 loft-style apartments with restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.
The city informed the collective that it had permission to access the Garden Station property until Oct. 31. Concerned citizens responded in early October by presenting the Dayton City Commission with a petition signed by 4,000 people who supported preserving Garden Station in its original location. The group also said it had a petition signed by more than 400 people who were willing to boycott any business that disrupted the preservation of the site.
“Our planning department has worked—and is still working—to help locate alternative properties for Garden Station,” says Toni Bankston, chief communications officer for the city of Dayton. “They have identified several on the west side of our town.” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein was recently quoted as saying that the city repeatedly offered to help Garden Station find and relocate to a new home. “It’s important people keep in mind the city has not wavered from the original intention of the original agreement,” says Dickstein.
Helm disagrees. “The city has not done anything at all for us at this point,” she says. “There’s been no money, there’s been no help moving anything, there’s been no help finding this property. They wanted to make it sound like they were going to help do this.”
At this point, with the lease now firmly in the hands of City Properties Group, there is little that can be done to save the art park at Garden Station in its original location. A trip to the park reveals a space that now seems sadly abandoned, with bright murals staring mutely down on an overgrown and windblown lot that only serves to remind the visitor of the many man-hours of hard work that originally went into developing and maintaining the site.
The people behind Garden Station have at this point moved all of the items that could possibly be moved and have started a new urban garden at 933 Xenia Ave. in Dayton. The DUG (Dayton Urban Growth) Farm will continue the work and ideas that drove Garden Station and the people who loved it for
eight years. Teaching and helping others to learn to grown their own food and be self-sustaining is a goal that continues at the new site.
“Basically, we’re putting together an incubator, a business incubator,” says Helm. “To help new farmers get started so that they don’t have all the
overhead and we have a co-op that shares equipment. So you don’t have to go buy a tiller or a seeder, you can share the one that is used by the other farmers in the group. The new site is more committed to just growing things.”
Whether literally planting seeds in the ground or planting ecologically sound ideas in the minds of her fellow citizens, Helm and the people who worked on Garden Station—and who now work down on the DUG Farm—are far from finished in Dayton.
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