A discrete sign posted at the southern corner of Rye Town Park informs the community that the garden is planted and maintained by Friends of Rye Town Park.
By Robin Jovanovich
A discrete sign posted at the southern corner of Rye Town Park informs the community that the garden is planted and maintained by Friends of Rye Town Park. Further down, it reads: “Interested in getting involved?”
Since the Friends all-volunteer nonprofit was founded in 1991, Rye Town Park has blossomed, beginning with a master plan created the following year by landscape architect Chris Cohan, who grew up in Rye, raised his family here, and still lives within two blocks of the park. In the last decade, both the Flagpole and Stairs to Nowhere gardens have been created and 100,000 perennial bulbs planted. The Duck Pond was not only restored, it was expanded —from .25 acres to almost 1.5 acres. Teak benches have been strategically placed to afford visitors the best views of the Sound and the majestic trees.
Decorative iron fencing has replaced chain link. The stately and original lamp posts (1907) that line the pathways have all been rewired.
All of this has been possible because of stalwart volunteers like Vicki Farrington, David Rasmussen, Clint Phy, Ann Moller, Chet Williams, Linda Wells, Charles Massey, Dennis Buckley, to name a few, and contributions from many others in the community.
But the little nonprofit that singlehandedly restored the 62-acre preserve, bringing it back to its splendid classic roots and continually working to preserve it, is at a crossroads. Without new and younger members ready to pitch in and fundraise, plan events, write grants, and continue sprucing up the grounds, the merry band of Friends may disband.
Friends of RTP President Linda Wells, who has served as President for the past several years, said that while the Town of Rye and the City of Rye pay for the general maintenance of the park, it is the Friends that paid for over $8,200 in tree care this year alone, continues to reforest the park with over 200 new trees to date, and funded a professional inventory of the park’s trees in recent years.
It is volunteers who plant the bulbs along the stonewall; push to reduce the number of cars parked on the great lawn; and contribute regularly to pond management expenses and delights, including new aerators, a circulator, a rowboat, and a feed machine to reduce the “people food” feeding of the waterfowl. The Duck Pond has been certified as a natural habitat.
Vicki Farrington, who has chaired the Friends’ annual dinner for as long as most people can remember, said, “I am not sure I really appreciated growing up within walking distance of Oakland Beach and Rye Town Park. Lazy summer days were spent ogling the lifeguards, buying pretzel rods from Bartlet’s hot dog stand under the pavilion, and waiting for low tide to swim out to the float. Our biggest concern was getting the sand off our feet as we sloshed through the water at the tunnel entrance to get to the cave-like, dark, cold showers. Walking past the duck pond on the way home was always fun as the ducks flocked over to see if there was food for them.
“Many years later a classified ad in The Daily Item caught my eye. Chet Williams asked readers who cared for the park to join a newly formed citizens group, The Friends of Rye Town Park. That was 1991. I am still a member today and still care for the park.
We had many guest speakers, raffles, and live art auctions with the help of Auctioneer George Latimer at our annual dinners. There was a solidarity of feeling in the room that the park is a precious gem to be taken care of.
Today, there are many organizations vying for volunteers and donations. Perhaps, there are fewer of us who have memories of our childhood at the park, but there is still a need to care for the park.”
Chris Cohan reminded us that when concerned neighbors started the Friends group nearly 25 years ago, the park was in shambles. “Together, and in spite of amazing odds, they persevered to transform Rye Town Park into The Jewel on the Sound.
He recalls a hideous, sharp-tipped rusting chain link fence that marred the beach; a duck puddle only one-fifth the size of today’s surrounded by unusable swampy grass filled with mosquitos; dead trees with dangerously hanging branches; no new planting in decades; every park lamp broken; a few splintered wobbly benches; eroded pathways; antiquated toilets; and the pavilions along with all the park buildings in terrible shape.
“Like the emperor’s new clothes those in charge ignored that grim reality. However, FRTP created a vision, raised money, and delivered major capital improvements on time and under budget to the community a park that is enjoyed by everyone.”
He added, “The organization’s success is a testament to good old-fashioned community spirit.”
For those interested in renewing that common purpose, the Friends of Rye Town Park is sending out a community call for volunteers. Call 967-0160 or inquire at www.friendsofrtp.org.