SANTA CRUZ >> San Lorenzo Park Neighbors and community members of all ages gathered at the park in Santa Cruz on Saturday to beautify the playground area and celebrate the recently restored “Lorenzo the Sea Serpent” statue, which received its first paint job nearly 60 years ago and its second in June.

“This is a culmination of everything we’ve been able to accomplish in two years,” said San Lorenzo Park Neighbors Co-founder Mark Wenzler. “The park itself looks nice and people are using it again. When we started San Lorenzo Park Neighbors, people wouldn’t even want to walk through the park, so it feels like we’ve really come a long way.”

Leslie Wooding, who also helped to form the Park Neighbors group in 2021, when the park was occupied by a homeless encampment, was happy to see so many families enjoying the park on an intermittently sunny Saturday morning. She pointed out that the Sentinel covered the statue’s first painting in May 1964 and that it was in dire need of a touch up before the community came out to repaint “Lorenzo” in June.

“The sea serpent has become very symbolic of the park and it was in disrepair, similar to the park itself,” said Wooding. “Two years ago there was no way this would be taking place in the park. And a lot of people still think it’s a mess and they don’t want to come here, but I say, let’s make it better. It’s our city park.”

Wenzler’s wife and San Lorenzo Parks Co-founder Maria Ferreira held similar sentiments and was overjoyed to see kids climbing on the serpent, swinging and helping to clean up the playground.

“I am just so excited to see kids playing here because when we started the encampment was here and it was very intimidating to be here,” said Ferreira. “This is like a dream to me.”

Lorenzo’s new paint job was a group effort that was made possible in part with grant funding awarded to the Coastal Watershed Council from the Arts Council Santa Cruz County. The paint, materials and tools were provided by the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department, and local artist Miguel Franco painted the iconic statue in June with the help of the community.

“The Coastal Watershed Council is getting pretty experienced with these public art projects along the river,” said Coastal Watershed Council Executive Director Laurie Egan. “And everytime I walk by the serpent, there are kids playing on it. And it’s just a magnet for people to come and enjoy San Lorenzo Park.”

The celebration and cleanup at the park Saturday came about through the efforts of groups such as the Coastal Watershed Council and with support from the nearby Hotel Paradox, which provided a free lunch to volunteers.

“What I love is that I see a lot of new faces today,” said Hotel Paradox Guest Experience Manager Melissa Begin, who was volunteering and celebrating at the park Saturday. “I walk back and forth through the park everyday and it’s such a huge change. It’s great to see the park being utilized as it should be. It’s beautiful and safe now.”

To help liven up the celebration with songs centered around the environment, such as “Do as you otter, don’t pollute the water,” was the Peter Weiss and the Earth Rangers, who have been playing music at park events since the inception of the San Lorenzo Park Neighbors. Weiss, also known as the “singing scientist” mentioned that this was the band’s first gig at the playground.

“We’re made for this kind of an event,” said Weiss. “This embodies everything about the Santa Cruz spirit to me. When I became a parent, I took my kids here frequently and they went down the serpent slide. Having this playground be safe for kids is really important.”

Wenzler mentioned that he and the other San Lorenzo Park Neighbors are actively looking for other community members with free time to spare to join the SLPN team and possibly take on some leadership roles.

“My wife and I are in special education and Leslie has a full time job,” said Wenzler. “So if there is anyone motivated to join the team, please reach out to us.”