Unity the goal after attacks
PARK: Local group wants a place to bring all faiths together.
By S. Jane Szabo
Candlelight and music are ephemeral, but a local group is working on a more concrete tribute to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Unity Park was officially announced Wednesday night during the Anchorage Remembers event at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
Organizers envision the park-to-be as a center for all the various faiths in Anchorage.
"A gift of about 10 acres of land sprung out of the 9-11 tragedy last year," said Dave Rose, chairman of the Unity Park Organizing Committee. "The idea is that we want to have a place where representatives of all faiths and denominations of those faiths have a place to be able to get together, either collectively or individually. A place to perhaps have picnics or retreats, or do church-type things out of the normal church setting."
Land was transferred Wednesday to the Unity Park Foundation, and the move was highlighted at events commemorating Sept. 11, 2001.
A retreat center, picnic areas, a meeting hall and ball fields are part of the formative plan for the 10 acres in Eagle River, located at about Mile 5 Eagle River Road near the river and bordering on Chugach State Park.
"The thing that came up after 9-11 was, 'What are we going to do?' " said Bob Halcro, one of the organizers. The Halcro family decided to give the land as a gift dedicated toward peace and good will. The goal is for all of Anchorage's 250-some religious groups to be able to use the facility, where only custodial fees would be charged.
"We want everyone of them to feel that they have a place with Unity Park," he said.
The plan has emerged a step from the mind's eye, with a recent mass-mailing to local congregations; the formation of committees; incorporation as a 501-C3 not-for-profit organization; and a brochure and buttons. Local religious and community leaders including Archbishop Francis Hurley, Rabbi Johanna Hershensen, the Ven. Norman Elliott, former Mayor George Sullivan and others have been involved.
Wednesday night, supporters gathered during the memorial events for the first annual "Walk for Unity," a stroll around Town Square. Next year, they hope to stage a larger and longer walk.
The next step will be to set some target dates and pursue grant funding to build infrastructure with a blueprint for roads, sewer and water and telephone installations with an eye toward creating a first-class facility. Group members also plan to visit other retreat centers to get ideas.
Organizers will appoint a board they hope will include every congregation in the community.
"We can't emphasize too strongly the inclusiveness of this," Rose said.
"This is for everybody. It is meant to include Baha'i, Moslem, Christian, Jew and Buddhist -- all."
Reporter S. Jane Szabo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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