Guilty over Costco, these concerned citizens aren't going away.

Mike Hoffman, left, Susan Hoffman, Isabel Espinoza, Eileen Cohen, Vivian Kuhn and Jon Nowlin throw leaves into the air that have fallen across Fuji Park. The group is hoping to save the fairgrounds from being developed into commercial property. Photo by Brian Corley

Mike Hoffman, left, Susan Hoffman, Isabel Espinoza, Eileen Cohen, Vivian Kuhn and Jon Nowlin throw leaves into the air that have fallen across Fuji Park. The group is hoping to save the fairgrounds from being developed into commercial property. Photo by Brian Corley

Every Tuesday, they planted themselves in front of Carson City Hall on North Carson Street, and in a scene reminiscent of the 1960s, they protested.

"I thought it would last a week and they'd be gone," said Teena Fearheiley, a deputy treasurer at City Hall. "They've been persistent and nice. So many people just sit back and complain. I thought it was kind of nice they were standing up for their views."

For the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds, summer 2001 became the Summer of Fuji. A February report that Carson City officials were considering selling Fuji Park and the Carson City fairgrounds stunned individuals into attending city meetings where they found others asking the same question: How could a city consider selling a park?

A March report detailing more sale plans pushed them into activism, and soon they dubbed themselves the Concerned Citizens, a name chosen to remind people of their purpose each time it is mentioned. Behind the name, behind months of weekly protests and endless rounds of city meetings, normal Carson City residents - teachers, state workers, retirees, environmentalists - devoted their time to trying to convince a community and its leaders a park, fairgrounds and stream sandwiched between commercial development is worth saving.

Their efforts culminated Nov. 14 as the group presented the city recorder a 3,400-signature petition asking city leaders to protect the park and fairgrounds forever or let the voters decide its future. A city attorney says Carson supervisors don't have to act on the petition, and officials have yet to respond to it.

Saying they feel guilty they didn't pay more attention to the city's sale of public land to Costco, these Concerned Citizens are paying attention to every move city officials make.

Eileen Cohen watched birds, walked her dog and attended numerous events at Fuji Park over the years.

While she wasn't happy with the Carson City leaders' decision to sell Fuji property to Costco, she didn't fight it because she trusted leaders when they said the park and fairgrounds were safe. However, after reading about city plans to sell the park and fairgrounds, she brought the issue to the Carson City Preservation Coalition. She found others through newspaper letters interested in saving the area, and attracted a crowd of 70 to the first Concerned Citizen meeting.

"I saw all the usage of the park by going there with my dog," she said. "It's a gem, a little piece of heaven. I value the riparian area, the trees, the open spaces, and Carson doesn't have enough of them. I don't care what kind of money you could offer, it would be a sin to develop it. I know our economy is run by the bottom line, but there are so many other things."

Despite the fact Cohen lives in Indian Hills, she insists she's "a Carson person." She owned property in the capital until last year and is involved in numerous Carson City volunteer organizations

A retired teacher and business entrepreneur, Cohen has used her unflappable energy to push for various causes in both her native Michigan and in Nevada, her home of 13 years.

Some of Heather Kuhn's Carson High School classmates have asked if her mother, Vivian, would chain herself to a tree to save Fuji Park and the fairgrounds.

Vivian Kuhn, Concerned Citizen's president, never imagined herself to be a community activist. A state personnel analyst, the 13-year Carson resident didn't pay much attention to the Costco deal, but when the notion of selling city land shifted to the park itself, she got involved. Kuhn jumped into a world of trying to understand city consultants and their studies, community master plans and other things she never imagined having to worry about.

She's learned so much about the importance of city sales taxes, you won't find her shopping south of the Carson City line. She calls herself the group "cheerleader," the one with the e-mail tree who sends notes of encouragement and reminders that the group is doing something good.

"We couldn't have done it without all the people who wanted to do whatever little thing they could," she said. "Once we quit paying attention, something could happen, and we need to get it settled."

She canceled some of her summer travel plans to help in the effort to preserve Fuji Park, all the while trying to balance activism with motherhood.

Kuhn said despite the time commitment, she's "stubborn" and refuses to give up lobbying the city until its leaders make a decision on the fairgrounds' future.

"This is such a quaint, nice area. I'd hate to see it look like every other place," she said.

Jon Nowlin had planned to revel in his recent retirement by remodeling his house, building a wood shop for boat building and traveling with his wife, Janet.

They got some traveling in, but instead of building, Nowlin set his mind this summer to sifting through city financial and environmental documents, consultant reports, looking for something to make sense of city leaders' decision to consider selling the fairgrounds for commercial development. He said his former job as water resource district chief for the U.S. Geological Survey gave him the "lucky" talent of being able to find and decipher facts.

He entered the fray warily, but "the more I looked into it, the more it didn't make sense at any level."

"I ran across others who were also upset," Nowlin said. "They were very frustrated with the political process and with government officials and their unwillingness to listen."

Nowlin, a 26-year Carson resident and Michigan native, started looking into "public options to try and stop this."

"I searched for something that would mean something, something that would have some teeth to it," he said.

He found a state law allowing residents to request an ordinance through petition, and after the group enlisted the help of attorney Julian Smith, they began circling the petitions.

"Instead of taking hikes in the mountains, we hiked our neighborhood," Nowlin said. "I don't think any of us realized how much work it would be."

Mike and Susan Hoffman remodeled their kitchen with the express purpose of entertaining more frequently.

"We have dear friends who haven't seen the kitchen yet," Susan said.

Their friends, however, are "sick of hearing about Fuji Park." Still, the Hoffmans won't stop their relentless support of saving the fairgrounds from commercial development.

"How did we get from Question 18 to this?" Susan, a teacher at Jacks Valley Elementary School, asked in reference to a 1996 sales-tax referendum that raises money for open space and parks. "We can't give up at the half-way point. Fuji is safe, but the fairgrounds aren't. If we fail, it's a big black eye for democracy."

Newlyweds in 1999, both grew up in Carson City. The group especially relies on Mike, a maintenance man at Whittell High School, for a community "historical perspective." Both of Mike's parents served as sheriff and he recalls the days when Ash and Kings Canyon creeks "ran through town." He said even though the group has been presented with frustrations and roadblocks, they realized they could stop because "people were counting on us."

Susan said, at first, city officials probably didn't take the concerned citizens seriously.

"But this is bigger. It goes beyond the people who use the park," she said. "A lot of people don't think their voice counts.

"Shopping malls won't last forever. We think Fuji Park has a longer life span."

Charles Kuhn - no relation to Vivian Ñ couldn't have been more surprised by the city's proposal to relocate Clear Creek. A consultant for a civil engineering firm, Kuhn spends about 95 percent of his time helping communizes build solid-waste facilities and has spent years consulting on environmental issues around the world.

"First of all, I had never heard of a park in this country being developed," Kuhn said. "What bothered me the most was Clear Creek. (Federal officials said) 'You want to change this creek, why?'"

His background in the environmental field offered the group insight to the environmental processes the city was working through.

"The city has, in my opinion, worked against the best interest of this community, and they will continue to if people don't watch what they're doing," he said. "We just don't want to take the beautiful area we have and turn it into a barren wasteland."

Through the summer, Deni French could be found marching around various city locations with a sign reading "Save Fuji Park" or "Don't Sell Out," becoming widely known as "the Fuji Park person."

French came to Carson City two year ago to care for elderly parents, Ben and May Ruth.

"Where I come from, people are just begging for parks," French, previously of California, said. "They're hungry for that one little piece of land to be open. Here it's just like bulldozers are crashing through everything. I had find out why it's happening, and the more I found out, the more frustrated I've become."

Alone, French collected nearly 900 of the 3,400 signatures on the Concerned Citizen petition to protect the park and fairgrounds. French gives credit to other loyal petition gatherers such as Jeff Nicklow, for convincing so many to sign the petitions.

"I'm a very shy person, but I wanted to give (Carson residents) an opportunity to be involved," French said. "I got myself out under that guise.

"The petition wasn't easy. You never know what you're going to get when you knock on a door or take up a sign and say this is what I believe."

Isabel Espinoza is a realtor and legal secretary who says she has been around the political system for a while. It was through that knowledge of government Espinoza became an invaluable Concerned Citizen. She helped the group figure out the petition process, getting voter registration lists to create community walking lists. She knew one of them would have to become a notary to make the petitions valid.

A New Mexico native, Espinoza has lived in Carson since 1980. She and Cohen started in the Fuji Park cause together. She insists the park and the fairgrounds are inseparable and cannot be replaced.

"I know they aren't making more land, especially not land with a little river in it," she said.

She said the key to the Concerned Citizens' chemistry and success is their persistence.

"We all have the same goals: to save Fuji Park and the fairgrounds," she said. "We've won Fuji Park. We just need to win the fairgrounds. They know we're not going away."


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