By Terri Harber
Someone purposely set fire to a sheltered picnic table at Central Park late Friday, and Baker City Police are investigating the incident.
The fire was called in to emergency dispatch just after midnight Saturday.
Police arrived at the park to find one of the picnic tables ablaze in the park. An officer used an extinguisher to put it out, said Police Sgt. Mike Regan.
Officers also found combustible materials in the area, but didn't provide a more detailed description of what they recovered.
"We're looking into it as a vandalism or warming fire," Regan said.
The estimated loss to the city is $500.
The sheltered picnic table was among the amenities donated to the community by the Lions Club.
There are two sheltered picnic tables in Central Park.
The downtown park is sandwiched between Resort Street and the Powder River. Washington and Valley avenues border it north and south. The Leo Adler Memorial Parkway runs beside the park.
A third sheltered picnic table sits next to LAMP in the Lions Memorial Park on the opposite side of Washington.
Each sheltered station cost thousands of dollars.
"It just makes me sick," said Becky Fitzpatrick, president of the local Lions Club. "We work so hard at our fundraisers."
The picnic tables and attached benches are made of recycled plastic but are molded to look like wood.
Vandals have targeted them before in a variety of ways. But this is the first time the destruction has been so dramatic, city officials say.
People living near Central Park have complained about noise, trash, trespassing, parking and traffic problems, and alleged criminal activity there since it opened.
City officials expect conditions will improve as more people use the park. It's considered a crucial piece of the Resort Street improvement - an attraction to draw more people and economic activity downtown.
Central Park is also an alternative location to some of the residents crowding into Geiser Pollman during the warmer months.
Adding parking spaces next to the park would make it a more attractive recreation site. Talks with a property owner about the matter are ongoing, according to the city.
People with information about the bench burning incident are asked to call police at 541-523-3644.