By Jamie Jensen
“The park has never looked better.”
“It feels like a proper park.”
“It’s so welcoming.”
Sentiments like these have become commonplace at Rye Town Park. While the pandemic has made outdoor spaces more cherished and families more appreciative, I suspect such sentiments are inspired by a growing group of committed volunteers who want a park that welcomes all.
Earlier this summer, volunteers and partner agencies made their support for the park known. Local high school students, Ann Ladd from the Rye Arts Center, and pRYEde founders created, mounted, and unveiled a mural dedicated to celebrating difference and kindness for Pride month and our LBGTQ communities.
Urban Coyotes band members Paul Jensen and Jerry Pasquale played an acoustic set for those enjoying the self-guided historic tour of the park created by Rye Historical Society educator Alison Cupp Relyea. Local resident Doug Carey – dressed in period clothes – played the part of the original Halstead brother and delighted young and old with tales from the early 1900s. By bringing their performances to the park, these four park fans did their part to help encourage appreciation and financial support for the park.
At the end of June, youth from Rye Presbyterian Church invested sweat equity in the park. The north section of the duck pond, where parents and grandparents bring their young ones to feed the ducks, and nature lovers flock, is a muddy experience for many and too often a source of complaints. With funds set aside by the Friends of Rye Town Park for materials, Park Director Russ Gold encouraged Rye Presbyterian Youth Minister Jean Paul Marshall to rally the church’s youth group to pitch in. Under the tutelage of local contractor Ken Harris, these committed young men and women measured, cut, and installed a footbridge around the town pond.
Since early spring, a small band of local women have donated their time and gardening expertise to make sure the park welcomes birds and bees as well. Lori Fontanes, Amy Kesavan, and Sue Drouin reintroduced pollinator plants and beehives to the park ecosystem. With Lori leading the effort, these three put their minds and muscle to work. Amy, master gardener and local bee expert, helped install beehives on the pond peninsula and then trained the town’s park director to care for the bees. Sue, professional landscape designer, designed, sourced, and planted hundreds of flowers with the help of a small band of volunteers.
For anyone who knows Sue, she treats any volunteer effort like a professional assignment. She worked tirelessly and meticulously to get two large gardens planted before the June heatwave.
During one particularly sweaty morning pushing wheel barrels and spreading mulch, I asked these women why this project mattered.
For Amy Kesavan, the pollinator project is the perfect metaphor for what makes Rye Town Park so magical: “Rye Town Park represents communities from all over; it is probably the most diverse place in our town – with families and friends gathering to play ball, take a swim, share a picnic, walk their dog, visit the duck pond. It is full of life. And that’s what I love about pollinator gardens; we are attracting migrating insects and birds in all their diversity. We offer a sanctuary that says, ‘You are welcome here’.”
For Lori, the pollinator project is a metaphor for volunteerism: “I look at our role as pollinators. We bring our talents and commitments to community efforts, and we pollinate ideas and friendships. It is what makes Rye grow.”
Those interested in volunteering can join the Rye Town Park Alliance Facebook page or visit the Friends of Rye Town Park at https://www.friendsofrtp.org/.