Nestled into Petaluma's historic downtown, Walnut Park is a veritable pillar of urban social life. But Saturday morning farmers markets, yearly festivals and weekday afternoons filled with frolicking children have taken a toll on the well-used park's infrastructure.

The extensive wear-and-tear recently came to the attention of the Petaluma Service Alliance, which created a multi-step plan to restore the park so that it can continue to be a bustling city center for years to come.

The alliance is a collaboration of seven Petaluma service clubs — including Petaluma Kiwanis Club, Petaluma Rotary Club, Petaluma Host Lions Club, Petaluma Elks Lodge, Petaluma Valley Rotary, Petaluma 7-11 Lions Club and Petaluma Sunrise Rotary — that came together five years ago to identify and address joint community projects.

In the past, the group has collaborated on projects such as remodeling of COTS' kitchen, landscaping of PEP Senior Housing and refurbishing a two-story apartment building for the free use of homeless veterans.

They have now turned their attention to the 140-year-old Walnut Park in an effort to improve the beloved 1.46-acre outdoor space.

"The city had been receiving calls from handicapped veterans, senior citizens and families that the old asphalt pathways had become hazardous to navigate. They asked what they could do to help," says Maureen Frances, chair of the Walnut Park Legacy Project for the Petaluma Service Alliance. "We saw this as a need that we could work together to fill."

The organizations have a history of volunteering to improve the park. The Host Lions Club built the park's gazebo, the Petaluma Rotary Club constructed the new playground and the Petaluma Valley Rotary installed the steel veterans memorial bench. As a joint force, the alliance is working together at Walnut Park and refurbishments are already underway.

"So far O'Brien Painting has repaired and painted the location's 19 benches to their original color and we've torn out the old shrubbery and with the professional advice of Firma Design, planted new landscaping in a patriotic theme of red white and blue," Frances explains. "Soon an eight-foot granite and stainless steel Peace Monument, donated by Marble World and J&M Precision Metal, will be installed near the gazebo."

There is still much to be done and additional funding will be required to finish the renovations. Frances estimates the Petaluma Service Alliance will need close to $80,000 to finish the final stage of the project by replacing the current asphalt with new concrete.

In order to do this, the group has begun fundraising by selling commemorative bricks, benches and plaques to the public. Donations begin at $100 for a brick, and prices are based on the number of lines and characters the donor wants to include.

"Dedicated bricks will be installed in the 'keystone' area between the gazebo and the playground and can be purchased in honor of a loved one, a veteran or to commemorate a special achievement or event," Frances explains. "Sponsorships are being offered on the existing benches, as well, including a bronze dedication plaque to be embedded in concrete at the base. There is a limited number still available."

Those who donate large sums to the project, at least $5,000, will earn the title of Major Benefactor and have their names engraved on a bronze plaque that will welcome visitors at the entrance at D Street and Petaluma Boulevard. The large-scale contributions will also be recorded in the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum's records to forever commemorate those who helped maintain Walnut Park.

This idea of the park's legacy lies at the heart of the Petaluma Service Alliance's renovation efforts.

"I have been intrigued by how much has happened at Walnut Park over the years," Frances says. "It continues to be a central place where families and the community come together. And buying a brick, bench or plaque is an opportunity to be permanently memorialized in this history of Petaluma."

Gradual restorations of the park are expected to take place until the end of summer 2014. To inquire about sponsoring a brick, plaque and bench, contact Frances at 695-4694.

(Cyprien Pearson can be reached at argus@arguscourier.com.)