A phalanx of mud-caked, spade shovels Saturday leaned against an Urban Resources Initiative (URI) truck, tools in a war to reclaim a parcel of land that lies between one end of Beaver Pond in New Haven, and the end of a residential cul-de-sac on Cherry Ann Street bordering the Hamden town line.
With the help of a broad coalition of organizations and neighborhood groups, the war is being won as New Haven’s newest public greenspace, Cherry Ann Park, rises from the mounds of debris and invasive weeds that have long-smothered the land’s potential and the dreams of some Beaver Hill area residents. Saturday the neighbors held a victory celebration.
Cherry Ann Street neighbor Clarence “Butter” James, who has worked with other neighbors and stakeholders to build the park, noted the land’s remarkable transformation: “Little kids used to play in the street. If you saw this two years ago you wouldn’t have believed it.” The neighbors on Cherry Ann — half of whom technically live in New Haven, the other in Hamden — worked together to reclaim the park with the help of the city and URI.
Visual reminders of the five-acre parcel’s recent past were mounded along the park’s edges awaiting removable by the city.
James was one of around 45 people who gathered Saturday in celebration of Arbor Day, to continue the work begun two years ago to reclaim the overgrown unused park, a vision propelled by neighbors like Mike Rich and Connie Vereen.
Supporting the park visionaries with labor, expertise and resources have been a number of organizations, local and state governmental agencies, schools and volunteers including the non-profit, Urban Resources Initiative and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Common Ground, Sound School, Squash Haven, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services who installed a fishing platform and graded the field …
… Audubon CT that helped build wildlife habitat — a deer fenced enclosure called “urban oasis”…
… and the city of New Haven, which provided site electricity, water and installed a playground. All had a hand in bringing the park, a work in progress, to this point.
Rebecca Bombero, director of New Haven’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees, said the department is hoping to install a wildflower meadow to help retain the park’s natural character.
Colleen Murphy-Dunning, executive director of URI, a not-for-profit greening group in town, said she is currently working on a grant proposal in order “to remove invasive plants and create greater visibility and sight lines into the park for safety and ecological health; create clear park entrances and connections to adjacent streets; address storm water runoff pollution into Beaver Pond (trash and pollutants empty into the pond through the culvert); possibly connect to King Robinson School.” Among items on a neighborhood wish list are grills, a gazebo, splash pad and additional amenities.
During Saturday’s event, most participants were clad in dark green T-shirts provided by TD Bank. Volunteers provided by the bank included Senior Vice President Steve Angeletti, who worked energetically alongside other volunteers. “It’s a great cause and one of many events that TD does from Maine to Florida” he said. TD Bank along with with the Arbor Day Foundation provided a grant that is funding the planting of 25 trees in the park.
“TD Green Streets is a component of TD Forests, a North American initiative that helps protect critical forest habitats equal to the amount of paper the bank uses each year. Together, these programs underscore the bank’s commitment to forest protection and stewardship, and are a direct investment in the health of our urban tree canopy” noted press materials.
Trees planted at the Arbor Day celebration included several redbuds, Hophornbeams, black Tupelo and a white pine tree according to Urban Resources associate director Chris Ozyck.
Additional trees will be planted in August with neighbors, community volunteers and graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies according to URI.
Throughout the morning, volunteers could be seen planting trees and installing protective mesh fencing or pulling many of the on-site invasive plant species. Mugwort, mulitflora rose, garlic mustard, Japanese knot weed, and water-loving, invasive phragmites were among the offenders.
After the hard work, some volunteers checked out the new swings ...
... all posed for a group shot to commemorate the occasion.
“We have made a strong start, but have a great deal more work to fully transform the park” said Murphy-Dunning. “In addition to addressing the current condition of the physical landscape, and in order to sustain the improvements, we’ll need to continue to engage the community.”
Judging by the number of volunteers who worked at the park on Saturday (and across town at Edgerton Park), and a new generation learning environmental values, the park will be in good hands going forward.