The "new" Pope Park has some nice additions, from ornate, old-fashioned lighting to a wrought iron fence around the swimming pool. But organizers of the park's redevelopment project are also excited about a notable subtraction.
"We tore down a road and built a path," said Sandy Parisky, referring to a paved access road, Pope Park Drive, that bisected the park for more than 90 years that has since been converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.
Workers were busy Thursday putting the finishing touches on the new lights and landscaping in preparation for a celebration Saturday of the reunification of the two parcels of land in the 71-acre park and the improvements made so far. The park, which opened in 1903, was designed by the Olmstead Brothers firm, sons of noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.
The first phase of the redevelopment project - finished last summer - focused on improving and expanding the entrance to the park at Park Street and Park Terrace and upgrading paths leading through the park.
The second phase - begun last fall - included the relocation and expansion of parking, improvements to the courtyard and renovations to the interior and exterior of the recreation center.
"The comments I've heard are that the park is more inviting and feels safer," said Andres Charparro Jr., the park's recreation center supervisor. "They seem pretty proud of it."
The makeover of the park is far from complete. Only about $2 million of the estimated $13.6 million needed to complete the master plan for the park's redevelopment has been spent so far.
Funding for the project has come from state grants, the city of Hartford, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and fundraising efforts by the Friends of Pope Park and the Pope Park Designated Fund.
Antonio Matta, an architect for the city overseeing the project, said the next phase will include drainage improvements along Park Terrace designed to prevent water damage and erosion to the park.
"The area by Park Terrace needs attention," said Nancy Macy, chairwoman of the Pope Park Designated Fund.
The master plan also includes improvements to the pond, construction of an amphitheater and adding lighted basketball courts that could be converted to an ice skating rink in the winter. The plan also envisions lining Park Street with trees on both sides, adding a new playground with a spray fountain and developing the park's land between Park and Russ streets.
Macy said the challenge moving forward on the project, which she expects to take about 10 years to complete, will be continued successful fundraising.
"We have to raise more money," she said.
Saturday's celebration, "Pope Park Comes Together," will include free food and games, a demonstration of old fashioned high-wheeled bicycles and a 1906 Pope Hartford automobile. Descendants of Col. Albert Pope, for whom the park is named, are expected to attend. For information on the Pope Park master plan, visit www.popepark.org
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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