June 17, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Freshly planted garden beds filled with hosta, lily and viburnum plants surround the new brick and granite entryway to Hartford's historic Pope Park. Along an expansive blacktop walkway that overlooks the 71-acre park sit rows of shiny black metal benches where people can eat lunchor just sit quietly.
"It's a lot nicer now," said Alicia Bilodeau, a Frog Hollow resident who came to the park Friday. "Nobody sat here before. They didn't use this part of the park, they just cut through here to get to the high school."
The changes are part of the first phase of the Pope Park Master Plan, a $13.6 million project aimed at making the century-old park safer and more accessible.
The plan, a collaborative effort of the Friends of Pope Park, the Pope Hartford Designated Fund and the Knox Parks Foundation, was prepared in response to the Hartford Parks Master Plan, which made recommendations for improvements to 32 of the city's parks.
"We are hoping that by making some improvements, that people will begin to use the park as a lunch time destination and to walk," said Laura Stone, communications manager for The Parisky Group, which has been responsible for staffing the project, hiring architects and marketing.
A celebration of the completion of the first phase is set for 2 p.m. today near the new entryway on Park Street.
The improvements also include a horse-shoe shaped stone bench overlooking the park's pond. New paved pathways for walking, biking or rollerblading run parallel to Park Terrace; while a second, smaller pedestrian entryway is where Park Terrace meets Ward Street. The area has flower beds and two big planters, which are meant to deter motorists from driving into the park.
"In the past, people parked all over the grass, ripping it up and damaging the trees. It was not good for the kids, it was dangerous," said Pope fund president Nancy Macy, a Frog Hollow resident. "There are over 400 kids who live around this park and they had trouble getting into the park because of the traffic. We've made it beautiful and hope people will use it and love it and discourage people from destroying it."
There is no vehicular entryway to the park. Motorists can park their vehicles in the lot near the Pope Park Recreation center, accessible via Pope Park Drive.
During Phase Two of the project, which is expected to begin in the fall, a new parking area will be created with handicapped entryways to the parks' ball fields. Pope Park Drive will be permanently closed and become a paved bike path and walkway.
The land for the park, which was designed by Frederic Law Olmsted, was provided by Col. Albert Pope in 1895 to be used for the people who worked in his bicycle factories and lived in the area.
"This park belongs to the city, not just any one individual group," said Macy. "The city oversees it, but they can't do everything all themselves. They need help. We are the designees."
Today's celebration will include a ribbon cutting ceremony and tree planting. Refreshments will be served and flamenco and rumba music will be performed by the band Fuego Del Corazon.
There will also be a demonstration of old-fashioned high-wheeled bicycles by the Connecticut Wheelmen, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the restoration and riding of early cycles. Each family that lives along Park Terrace was mailed a flier about the event, which is free and open to the public.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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