‘Furry’ friends to return to Monkey Park
By Rebekah Martin
Former residents of Monkey Park are scheduled to make a return this spring after being gone for several decades. Statues of spider monkeys, carved from locally sourced wood, will soon find a home at the beloved park.
The project, which has been in the works for more than two years, is the brainchild of Lisa Harrelson, Community Development Administrator.
Years ago, the park was nicknamed ‘Monkey Park’ because of these interesting inhabitants. Many who have lived in Opelika since that time remember visiting the monkeys as children. Harrelson said she wants everyone to be able to experience Monkey Park the way she did when she was a child.
“I grew up with the monkeys, and everyone knows it’s the monkey park, but not everyone knows where the name came from. I don’t think anybody knows it as ‘Municipal Park,’ said Harrelson. “I’ve told my children the stories about the monkeys … I just thought about all the new people that come to Opelika and don’t understand and have no visual of the monkeys being down there. It’s a great childhood memory – we would go to the park, ride the train, play all day and we would feed the monkeys.”
Harrelson said she looked into installing a bronze statue at the park when she first had the idea, but it wasn’t until one of her former classmates, J. Stern, moved back to town that the project began building steam.
“J. has been wonderful with helping get all of this rolling again,” Harrelson said. “He came to me after hearing about the plan and said ‘How can I help?’”
“It’s just my vision to have a memorial of the monkeys at the park with a plaque that would explain the history, when the monkeys came here, how long they were here, when they left, all of that,” Harrelson said.
Harrelson said one thing that makes this project unique is that it’s remaining local from the ground up. Opelika resident and artist Ken Murphy will soon begin carving the monkey statues from cedar and pine trees found around Opelika.
Murphy is donating his time and talent to the project free of charge.
“Right now we’re starting with two and in a year or so, we will see how those are holding up with the weather and everything,” Harrelson said. “We’ll just see how receptive the community is to it.”
The big unveiling is slated for May 7, the same weekend the Rocky Brook Rocket is scheduled to return during the annual Garden in the Park festivities.
“We’re going to try to tie it all in together and have one big open house celebration,” Harrelson said. “I think people from town who have moved away, this will bring them back just to see the monument. The stories get passed on after time, and we want everyone to be able to see it. I can’t wait – Garden in the Park can’t get here fast enough.”
Harrelson said she hopes this project is something the community will rally behind and want to see succeed. “I’ve never lived anywhere else, so that’s why I’m so passionate about Opelika – because my roots are buried here so deeply,” Harrelson said.
Orders for memorial bricks with three lines of engraved text are now being taken and cost $50.
The bricks will be laid around the cage and will help fund the project and keep it maintained. To order a brick, contact Harrelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 705-5155.
For more information, find the project on Facebook at www.facebook.com/monkeymonument.