It's been a battle, but I want to catch you all up with the status of the bridge project. It's been quite the journey, but we re upon a landmark time for Harrybrooke Park.
To catch everyone up, the bridge was declared unsafe in November of 2021. This was due to a self imposed inspection. You see in 2018 we performed a routine safety inspection. We were told in 2018 that it passed, but they recommended we revisit it in five years to see the progression.
While there is no official record to the bridge, we estimate it was built after the flood of 1955. This was the second bridge built in that location. The first was built by Frank Harden between 1941 and 1943. It was washed out and we are estimating that was in the great flood that decimated the town.
So in November 2021, we decided to have it checked early, prior to the anticipated five-year plan. Upon inspection, the steel holding up the bridge had become detached on the Lanesville Road side. It was recommended we close it to all traffic to salvage the strength it still had.
The quotes given from the engineers were massive. Almost six million dollars to replace the bridge. Unfathomable. Since we are recognized as a historic property by the state, we asked if restoration was possible. After drilling, we were told that it would be an option, dropping the estimate to $1.94 million. Still a very difficult number for us to absorb.
We asked if there could be any temporary fix and were told yes, and a cost of $126,000 in the estimate. This would be a temporary fix that we are told can last two to three years.
Most people do not realize that Harrybrooke Park is a nonprofit 501c3 and not a municipal or state park. This makes it even more difficult to raise the dollars or to find grants, which we are doing almost daily.
We reached out to the community as the park is "The People's Park" to ask for your help in restoration. While every dollar counts, in the last 6 months we have raised just $2,400 from general donation. It was very generous, but far short of our goal of $126,000.
Luckily, Mayor Pete Bass stepped in to offer assistance in this temporary fix. With the recent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the town could allocate the $126,000 to the park to pay for the temporary fix. This would allow us to remain open for upcoming events, weddings and regular pavilion rentals, allowing us to maintain the small amount of revenue we have to keep the park open.
In the meantime we are discussing the use of state ARPA funds with Governor Lamont's office as well in the hopes of state support and funding to cross that finish line. This takes time but the wheels are in motion.
In the meantime, a contractor has been chosen and will begin restoration next week! We are hopeful that the project can be completed prior to Memorial Day, but the contractor is confident that it will certainly be done by the end of the month with a firm My 30th finish time.
So this all means that we will re-open the regular routine pretty soon. Thank you all for your ongoing support and understanding. Within a couple weeks, let's hope we are driving on the bridge :)
Well, I just noticed that we have ignored this blog for a year so I now know my resolution for 2022 I guess. Tomorrow night we bid adieu to a year many of us are happy to see go. A second year of a pandemic, a second year of shortages and fear ... yet here we stand, facing the next year already. It seems like only yesterday where we couldn't get toilet paper or Lysol. We still fight for quotes from contractors who are all backed up, but more on that later.
So with two years of chaos, fear and turmoil, I still say THANK YOU. We are able to move forward because of the strength we find in each other. Speaking for the park itself, we are able to see more change and growth thanks to you. Your support is not JUST appreciated but vital to the our survival. We do not just look to survive, but thrive into 2022. Here are a few things on tap, a hope chest of sorts, for Harrybrooke Park.
The bridge leaving the park (once the entrance) is a large focus this year. We have recently done some tests on the footings and are waiting the results from the engineers. In the next 4 years or so, we must address the need to restore or (God forbid) replace the bridge. Frank Harden built the bridge when he first moved in back in 1942. I have photos of its construction. The bridge was washed out once (perhaps in the flood of 55?) and rebuilt. It has not bee worked on since, hence our 4 ton weight limit. We hope to have a solution on what we are able to do bout it this year.
When i was a child coming to this park in the 70's, the pond was about 12-15 feet deep. Now it sits at about 4 feet deep. Silt, needles and goose poop have truly filled it up. We are awaiting a quote (busy contractors) to dredge the pond this summer if we are lucky. It's a priority for us, but we must time it properly and are still awaiting the permitting as well.
The Conn area bathroom building
If you haven't noticed, the bathrooms are updated a bit by the Conn pavilion. This is thanks to several people who made the project happen and come to completion. Home Depot made some generous fixture donations, Mike Hopp of Hammertime framed and drywalled while Kenny Barron did all of the plumbing. Deak Electric ran the wiring and our own Craig (our park caregiver) finished with painting and securing the fixtures. A collaborative team effort leaned it up a lot, but there is work to be done. Oh and all of the contracting work? Donated. Amazing.
The building itself needs to be cleaned and painted. The other half of the structure we are getting quotes on currently (busy contractors) and hope to make into a small kitchenette and serving bar for rental. This will go well with our wedding caterers too!
The barn (big garage)
As many of you know Craig by now (coming into his third season as our care-giver) you'll notice the work he does. Beautification of the park is only second to his safety awareness. He has cleared the two back bays to convert them into a carpentry workshop. He will be planing and painting the picnic tables from around the park. We have 52 tables. Insane right? Many of them need work so this is his "side project" that will take some time.
That bay is not heated.The barn is not heated. SO BIG THANKS to Bob O'Rourke who told us about a program we qualified for. Then to our friends at Marandola Fuel who have arranged a furnace to be donated to the park to heat that back two-bay garage. The project is already underway and Craig should have heat out there in a matter of weeks.
These are just a few examples of what is in store this year. Along with hopes of painting restoration, possibly expanding the barn, upgrading equipment, replantings, general upkeep and restoration ... we have a lot planned.
All of this happens with what equated to about 10,000 hours of volunteer work here each year. Our garden club did an amazing job in 2021 with the Harden Garden as it looked brilliant. They return for even more stunning results expected.
We also have a very special team of three who care for our pea-family every day. Jill, Theresa and Becky ... we can't thank you enough.
And finally, each of you who have given time and/or dollars to the park. We cannot be what we are without you. God bless you and we look forward to all that 2022 brings as we are truly blessed.
I prefer to sat Twenty-Twenty-WON! We are bound and determined to WIN this year. The last year has been hard on everyone and that includes the park. We stepped back about 4 years as fr as the financials go and that says a lot.
I arrived here on March 16th, 2016 and the date rings strong for me in many ways. March is a tumultuous month for weather and the park's financial condition reflected that state. I am not being coy when I say the park was certainly in jeopardy of closing at that time. We were staggering payments for oil and electricity to get through that winter. Much of the condition, if you recall, was fading and it wasn't because the park didn't want to, but couldn't. They had fought back and breathed life back into the museum with so much sweat equity of the "Friends of Harrybrooke" who were a group of dedicated volunteers. The money raised from that was truly collective of that group who all contributed personally. It was the foundation of what would begin when I arrived. Had it not been for those Friends, we likely would have closed the gates before I had even arrived.
Also the date of 3/16 reflects me to 3:16. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The piece that grabs me is "eternal life." I believe it's our job as a generation, to care for Harrybrooke Park. To preserve this park for the next generation and they for the following and so on.
While Frank Harden tried to prepare his former estate to live on as a park for all to enjoy, the financial times of 1965 and for 2021 are far different. Now we must have our events and fundraise in order to make the dream continue.
Now 2020 didn't beat us, but it beat us up, that's for sure. We intend to bounce back and allow a place for your children and grandchildren to learn to ride their bikes, for family picnics and for exploring the river trail and learning about nature.
I al so very proud of the work over the last (almost) five years here. We have collected about 10,000 hours/year, EACH year, in volunteer hours. We have created events that have made us all laugh and workouts to better ourselves. We have been inclusive of other nonprofits and helped them collectively.
Harrybrooke is again a part of the community as intended in Frank Harden's Will. If you grew up here, you likely have a story or two about Harrybrooke. It has changed and not changed. It is the same as when I was a kid and so much more now.
In the next 361 days, I hope you will come by for a walk, an event, and if you're lucky, even a wedding. We are fighting every single day to remain open for your enjoyment. For fresh air and exercise. For your children and grandchildren. For those struggling with life's concerns. we are here as a refuge from "real life." Most importantly, we are here for you because you have allowed that to happen with attending events or making donations.
Harrybrooke is the PEOPLE'S PARK and it remains so because of such an outstanding community of people. We are forever grateful and hope to show you that among the 48 acres here.
Happy New Year.
Some may know that Harden House Museum is listed with the Connecticut state register of historic places. Within you will find thousands of treasures, each screaming with a story of art, life and sincere interest and intrinsic value. While the majority of the art, furniture and collections of the museum are original to the Hardens themselves, on rare occasion we are thrilled to add a piece to the museum.
Today is one of those days and it comes with a lovely story.
First and foremost let us thank Mr. Joe Cats who donated this piece from his personal and private collection. Mr. Cats sits as President of New Milford Historical Society. His deep love and general curiosity of the town's history (both bold and quiet) makes him an asset to the historical preservation of this town. What's more is his love for sharing this history with you and me and frankly any person who shows the interest. I have had MANY lengthy conversations with Joe where we could each teach the other something and more so, Joe has taught me quite a bit more. Today he teaches us of the Wannopee Pottery Company which was here in New Milford in the early 1900's. Much of their pottery gained recognition as "lettuce leaf" pottery made famous by Mrs. Jackie Kennedy owning quite a few pieces while in her stay at the White House.
First and foremost we hope that this finds you and your family safe. This is paramount in every decision made ... safety first.
Many people have called, emailed, facebooked (is that a word?) and stopped us in the park to inquire about our efforts. We appreciate the conversations. Completely! Communication is critical to any smooth operation. your questions have mostly surrounded our being open and the social distancing within the park so we thought we would share a few points to keep you as safe as we can.
Stay healthy, stay safe and God bless.
This is difficult for some and easy for others. For huggers, let's face it, this is Dante's new 9th level of hell. But we are doing this for the greater good. I won't get into decisions or politics about this. It's not the place for it. I want to talk about why the park is, well, essential.
My Grandmother always used to say "Go get some fresh air. Nothing is better for you than fresh air." She's right. A walk, a hike ... fresh air and some light exercise is good for you in so many ways. We have to keep moving and walking circles in our livings rooms while binge watching Netflix is the mind and cardio equivalent of chewing sugarfree gum. Theres nothing there. Just flappin your jaw.
Two, turn off that phone when you do. A lot of people walk the park with earbuds and music or a good podcast (I know a few myself that I love) but it's so important to just take it all in one in a while. We have red-shoulder hawks that you can hear call to their young. The rumble of the train going by or even the sound of the wind in the trees holds different emotions for us all. Take it in.
Three, the park is a place to gather your thoughts. When you take that walk, run or even bike ride, you have time to yourself to sort things out. Yes, these are stressful times but we are all working through it together. Our minds will accept it as we choose to perceive it. Maybe we can take it as a forced reconciliation with ourselves. Or the unplug from everything and everyone for a bit and see where we are in life and take inventory on what is most important. think it through, take a couple deep clean breaths ... it's going to be ok.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be kind. Yes your smile when walking by someone else means something. They are struggling too and it shows them they're not alone. Some of you are in a house with kids and joy (and madness for sure) and a spouse. Others are alone and trying to stay safe and calm. your smile can mean a whole lot to someone struggling with this. Kindness is free and empowering. Share it like fresh air.
We are going to be alright. Never let the stress of things you can't control effect your happiness, your health or your spirit. Be well, friends ... this too shall pass.
Coming off of a mild winter, it's odd to say "thaw" in this situation, isn't it? While the park is usually under ice and water or snow at this point, today the sun shines. I couldn't be much more grateful for that but it's also a reflection of things being a bit different here in the park as we begin 2020.
As most of you know the staff here is pretty small and you grow to know us pretty well. When you have a staff of three and you lose one, that's a big change. When you lose two it's a rebuild. It's like a sports team rebuilding their starting lineup. Let me explain.
Jim Bannan, our groundskeeper and caregiver for over ten years has made the decision to retire and move to NY with family. He has been a big part of the park for a long time and if you don't know Jim by name, you likely saw him or his grey van on the grounds over the years. Jim left earlier this month and we wish him all the best in his semi-retirement.
Also, Lindsey, our event coordinator has moved on be a full time wedding coordinator in NY. It's from part time to full tim and she is working full time now in this new endeavor. Again, all is well and we wish her the very best.
So we had some work to do. Replacing two hardworking people is a task. The park needs to look beautiful and the events must go on, right? We need to pay for the pretty part. It's a vicious circle of sorts. We needed to find really good people who were willing to jump in, head first ... and the water is chilly!
Welcome Arielle Barker and Craig Reardon to the fold. Arielle assumes multiple responsibilities internally. While I wear many hats, it's helpful to have a right hand here as the Office Manager and Asst. Events Coordinator. A New Milford native, Arielle brings energy, youth and organizational skills that most certainly help the park in so many ways.
Craig is a skilled carpenter and all around talented handyman who will be moving into the park and will be on grounds a lot. So if you see a new face driving the golf cart around the park, it's likely Craig and you will certainly be greeted.
Arielle and Craig bring fresh faces and some sunshine on their own. It brings a new feel to the park and a breath of fresh air. Two new people with a fire and energy to make things great truly inspires me to do more and be more too.
So where is the park for 2020?
Please take a moment to welcome the two new members of our park family on your next visit. They are excited and it IS contagious. I mean it's no Corona virus, but it's pretty catchy!
See you all soon!
Spring brings so very many wonderful treats to all of us. The birds are singing. The flowers are blooming, right? April showers bring May flowers. The saying holds true but what if it's no April showers but March showers that didn't stop through April and never drained the winter snow. Oh and eight floods of the park after Labor Day 2018? To put it kindly, we are wet.
Originally, back in the 1940's when Frank Harden built the park (as then a home and weekend retreat from New York City) the South end of the park was basically wetlands. A big swamp. Much of the land was filled in with loads of dirt delivered daily to the property. It may sound crazy by today's standards but back then, it would have been regular practice, reasonable and acceptable.
The funny thing about our dear friend Mother Nature is that she reclaims what is hers. One way or another and at her own pace. So after almost 80 years, she is now reclaiming HER park a bit with all of this rain. We get it, we understand and respect her completely and we ask that you do the same. Be careful where you park and even walk at times.
The park is wet. The park is gorgeous and green but the grass will be a bit high until we can actually mow it. The ground is just too soft to get the machines on it. So while we apologize for some of the overgrown appearance it is certainly not for a lack of trying or neglect. It is simply Mother Nature telling us to wait it out. So we will wait and address the growth when we can. We are sure that you understand what's going on but if you have questions, Mother Nature is readily available. :)
At least it's green, growing and not cold, right?
My earliest recollections of coming to Harrybrooke Park as a child revolve around three things.
I loved feeding the fish in the pond.
I loved burning my butt on the "giant" slide.
And above all else, it was the coolest thing to see the peacocks. They seemed to be from another planet and where else could a young boy in the 70's get to see such a magnificent animal? Maybe on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom if I was lucky enough to catch that episode, or in an encyclopedia. But we weren't going to the zoo too often and certain no one had them in their yard in my neighborhood.
In the coming days we will be announcing the "Welcome Home" party for the peacocks as they strut their way back into Harrybrooke Park. Yes, they ARE coming BACK in May.
I am having a hard time putting it into words what this means, personally, let alone what it means for the park or for the community of New Milford. I think the word is nostalgia.
"Can we go see the peacocks?" was question asked by so many children for years. The word peacock heard throughout my life was always synonymous with Harrybrooke and frankly still is. This memory is so deeply rooted in so many of our childhoods that it was one of the first things I lobbied the board for when I first started working here over three years ago. These birds are so very important to us and I began to question why, and why they ever left.
Ok, so to see something so rare to our area was pretty special right? It'd be like seeing an elephant or a kangaroo in the park today. That might actually freak me out a little. Peacocks are elegant. Peacocks are so unique and beautiful that they fee regal and majestic. They had had such impact throughout history all over the world. In Greco-Roman mythology the peacock tail has the "eyes" of the stars. In Hinduism, the peacock is associated with Lakshmi who represents patience, kindness and luck. In Persia the peacock is seen as a guardian to royalty, and is often seen in engravings upon their thrones. In Christianity the peacock represents the "all-seeing" church. So the Hardens who gave us Harrybrooke Park may not have been royalty, but in doing the research were connected to such royalty in Ireland and certain come from opulence which translates, in this case, to the peacock.
For me, it was a bit of a quest and responsibility. I felt as if I owed it to the next generation, and all of those within the last 30 years, to allow them the same opportunity that we had so long ago.
I researched the board of managers' notes and cannot see any discussion of them being sick, or dying off. It appears as though they had lived their life here and when they died, the board (at the time) expected the concept to die with them. That is certainly not the case.
As I mentioned I have been here for over three years now (which feels unreal, I still feel so new here) and people ask me at least 3-4 times per week when they are coming back.
The current Board of Managers for the park, I have to say has been quite understanding to what the public wants. So we are cleaning the peacock shed, built a new cage and are well on our way to preparing their new home. The size and security of the enclosure should be sufficient for them to have space. I will be picking them up from a family man who has raised them his whole life in PA. And yes it's a "them" as we are bringing a mated pair.
Then we had to decide what to call them. They do need names and while the farmer's son had his own name for the male, the female didn't have a name. Considering they represent all that I mentioned above, there really was no option but to name them Frank and Liz, the first names of the Hardens. It is my hope that their names might spark conversation so that more people may learn of the Hardens and understand what an incredible gift they left us here in New Milford.
So keep an eye on the website and social media in the coming days as we announce the PROUD return of the peacock (and peahen) to Harrybrooke Park. In all sincerity, it is one of the top things (if not the top) I am so incredibly proud of when it comes to the work in the park.
We all hope you enjoy seeing them back home, where peacocks should always belong.
Growing up in New Milford, I heard kids making fun of our "bodunk" town. It always stung to hear the Danbury kids call us a cow town for whatever reason. I could tell they were trying to insult us in some way, but I never really could figure out why that was a put down. Cows rock. I love milk and ice cream and cheese. I guess they don't. I dunno! I was proud at a young age of our town because it's simply pretty amazing. Or as we'd say in the 80's it was "totally awesome, dude." And y'know what? It still is totally awesome.
We have our Spring cleanup here this weekend. I was involved in my first Spring Cleanup at the park about 8 or 9 years ago which is long before I worked here. I am still amazed to see our friends and neighbors (odd that we separate those isn't it?) show up with rakes and leaf-blowers and help clean up the park. I get it, people are busy and it's Spring so every yard and house needs that cleaning to get that stench of Winter behind us. I'm not being flip when I tell you it brings a tear to my eye and I literally get goosebumps when I see families showing up to put a little sweat equity into "The People's Park." I have had to stop and collect myself as it's overwhelming to see what an amazing community we are all a part of. Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. It happens.
April is such an interesting month. The cold snaps and the sun comes back out to get it all going again. Flowers begin to pop up and the energy level simply rises, like a morning sun. It's a beautiful month. The Clean-up really kicks off what was always considered "park season" around here. The egg hunt has grown into something far bigger than we had ever dreamed of and last year welcomed over 600 kids. Every kid got a book and had the chance to meet with the Easter Bunny. No one "missed the fun" or was turned away. it was truly a joy to see. As a private park, we do not receive help from the town in cleanup or in funding so it's really difficult to maintain a 48-acre park on a smaller budget with growing expenses. Our community is responsible for our success. And what is success? Success is a safe, clean and natural place for activity. That's how I see it anyway for us. And I believe in that regard, we truly are successful, but we also need so much help.
At the end of the month, we are taking part once again in Give Local. This is a 36-hour online donation event. A bunch of Western CT takes part in this event and some don't know what it really is. To break it down to simple terms, the CT Community Foundation organizes this event where every donation made by someone in the public is met by a percentage of matching dollars from some large corporate sponsors. In the past we have received about 12% more in each donation. So if someone gives $50, we receive $56. It doesn't sound huge, but it IS because it all adds up. We hope that you consider a small (or large) donation to Harrybrooke Park this year to help us maintain that "success" I mentioned earlier. And yes, we hope you contribute to other groups that you hold close to your heart. I know that I do, and we can all give a little to make a BIG LOCAL difference.
So what is this community? It's not just the tangibles. It's all of the intangibles. It's the giving of sweat equity. It's including your kids to help clean up their park. It IS a small contribution financially when you can spare it. A community is people coming together for one another and giving us all those goosebumps that are a sign from the universe that we are simply getting it right. Thank you all for your continued support. It does NOT fall on deaf ears. It is greatly appreciated ... and yeah, peacocks should be here very very soon :)
The blogs are written by our park Executive Director, Billy Buckbee. Some call him Mo but he's the guy with the beard you see around the park.