In past winters, Riddle resident Robert Williams trekked through mud to visit his daughter’s burial site at the Roseburg National Cemetery.
“When you come out here in the winter, you better have four-wheel drive,” the 64-year-old said.
The Navy veteran shouldn’t have difficulty next winter. Veterans on Friday afternoon celebrated the pending paving of the lot with a groundbreaking ceremony.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a real long time,” Williams said.
He was among 40 veterans, city leaders and community members who gathered in the dirt parking lot between the cemetery and Fir Grove Park to witness shovels turning earth.
“It’s going to be a nice feature that we will have,” Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich said.
The city acquired the property from the VA Roseburg Healthcare System in 1966. Community members over the years have lodged complaints about the rough ground, which is muddy in the winter and dusty in the summer.
Rich acknowledged those frustrations, while saluting key individuals who rallied behind the project.
“I am pleased to see that our community came together,” Rich said.
Public and private monies are funding the $201,569 project. The nonprofit group Guardians of Heros led a successful fundraising campaign, collecting $82,000 for the parking lot. The group formed almost three years ago.
The City Council last month awarded a $169,869 contract to Knife River Materials of Roseburg to pave the lot and build a bicycle path around the adjacent park.
The 90-space parking lot should be completed by the end of the summer.
“I think we just owe it to them,” Mike Jeffries, 76, said about having an adequate parking lot for veterans. “It’s been too long.”
He and his 19-year-old grandson, Jacob Jeffries, traveled from Canyonville for the ceremony.
Derek Simmons, president of Guardians of Heroes, said the project means a lot to him personally. The son of a Vietnam War veteran, Simmons said his father never liked to talk about his service.
“He always said, ‘We’ve got better things to talk about,’” Simmons said.
Unlike others, his father returned safely from overseas. Simmons said the project allows him to show respect for those who didn’t come home.
Despite the long road, many expressed gratitude that the lot will soon be appropriate for a military cemetery.
“I’m pleased to see the community come together and finally, after 46 years, get to see (the project) get to this place,” said Rick Sciapiti, secretary and past president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum.
Taking in the scene, Sciapiti began to smile.
“It looks like the parking lot is going to be completed,” he said.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.