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Constance Alexander: Lockout at Murray State Arboretum inspires public to speak up and be heard

Whether you saw the padlock first and then read the sign, or vice versa, it didn’t matter. The results were the same. The public that uses and appreciates the Murray State University Arboretum was not pleased the other day when they discovered that the south entrance was padlocked. Access could only be gained through the main parking lot, a long trudge for anyone on foot.

Murray loves the Arboretum, a public educational display garden with a 0.8 mile pathway, three covered pavilions, a pond, Play Pocket, butterfly garden, a Blessings Box filled with books, an apiary, and much, much more. Every day, people of all ages wander the winding paths, lined with ever-growing collections of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. 

(Photo from Getty Free Images)

Riding bikes is not allowed, but baby carriages are ok. Dog walkers are welcome as long as they clean up after their pets. Runners, joggers, meditators, bird watchers, and horticulturists make use of the space from sun-up to sundown. Wedding parties often make a stop there to get stunning photos amidst nature’s splendor.

The lock aroused ire, but the official sign explaining the abrupt change inspired even more passionate pique. Riddled with typographical errors, it seemed to mock the mission of Murray State University, the institution which owns and manages the refuge.

It referred to an unnamed city “ordianance” and declared that the gate must “remained” locked. No parking allowed for “saftey” concerns. Visitors were directed to the main parking lot for entry, “off of” Hickory Drive.

Facebook exploded with indignation. Emails, phone calls, and texts bounced through the hallowed halls of MSU and downtown’s city hall. Jim Osborne, the interim city planner, told callers that Murray city government had not required that the south entrance be locked. Tony Brannon, Dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture, admitted that the issue was not the city’s.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

“It falls on our shoulders,” he told me. “We’re not perfect.”

He did add, “It’s not a city park,” and went on to itemize the challenges of managing an open space. He mentioned problems with people not cleaning up their animals’ waste, and bikers speeding through on wheels, endangering those following the rules.

Paul Rister, chair of the Arboretum board, weighed in on Facebook and cleared up some confusion about the decision to lock the south entrance. “Apparently the sign making machine does not have spell check,” he said, inviting anyone who has “never made a mistake before” to step forward.

In one day, enough of a racket had been raised to replace the offending sign and remove the padlock. “It was a mistake we own,” Brannon assured me. “We’ll make adjustments.”  

Last week in Murray, people spoke up and made sure their voices were heard. As a result, changes were made by those with the power to make them. No long-term solution about parking is yet defined, but the situation was addressed in a timely manner. It seems pretty clear that the south entrance to the Arboretum will not be blocked in the future.  

It was a lesson in civics with a positive ending.

With that victory under our belts, it is on to a monumental challenge: Convincing our senators that it is their duty to revisit the question of creating a bi-partisan commission that will examine how the security of the Capitol was breached on January 6 by a vicious crowd of insurrectionists. Senators McConnell and Paul and Representative Comer have locked us out and thrown away the key.

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