AUGUSTA — A 2-acre park hidden away in the heart of busy and heavily developed north Augusta, is getting spruced up by a combination of volunteers, businesses and the city.

Maintenance of Kennebec Valley Garden Club Park, created in the mid-1970s at the urging of the late philanthropist Elsie Viles, had fallen off in recent years. Many members of the regional garden club who took care of it previously grew older or busy with other projects to maintain the park that surrounds a 1-acre pond at the site between Civic Center Drive, University Drive and Community Drive. The park is in an area mostly populated with offices and shops.

City crews took over maintenance responsibilities at the park a few years ago, but Augusta hasn’t had the staff to do extensive work there beyond mowing it. So the site had become overgrown with tree and plant life, making the park — one that many people had no idea existed — even more hidden away.

“You couldn’t even see it, it was so overgrown,” said Cindy Roy, an organizer of ongoing, cleanup efforts at the park.

The green space is just outside where she works at Maine Municipal Bond Bank, and is surrounded by several other offices, including those of Bangor Savings Bank and Maine Education Association.

“We’re going to bring it back,” Roy said. “This is going to take a little while. It’s a lot of work, but it will be well worth it in the end.

“The city did a lot of work already, a lot of cutting,” she added. “We’re going to continue it.”

Daffodils lining a path are surrounded by overgrown plants Thursday at Kennebec Valley Garden Club Park in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Heide Munro, a longtime garden club member whom fellow gardener Karen Foster said has been maintaining daffodils at the park, said she is happy to see the new helpers working to clean up the park site. Munro said after the garden club turned over the park to the city years ago, it was replanted and became overgrown.

“It became a total wilderness, I’d just go in and try to rescue the daffodils,” she said. “The city has done a lot of work through the years. The city did the best they could.”

Bruce Chase, parks and recreation director for the city, said Augusta just didn’t have the staff time to dedicate to maintaining the park. He said the city did mow it, but over the years it got so overgrown around the pond passersby couldn’t even see it.

He said a city public works crew spent five days earlier this year mostly cutting and removing brush from the park, so much so the pond is now visible to the many motorists passing by.

“We had to really go in there and give it some TLC, which we haven’t in recent years, because I haven’t had the manpower to do what needs to be done,” Chase said. “We’re going to put more effort into it. We’ll be able to do a better job maintaining it. Public works went in for a week, and now it looks 100% better, in my opinion.”

He said the city will also put in some benches, replace a sign indicating the park is there, and make other changes to make it more inviting.

Foster said the nearly secret park is so beautiful that when there were weddings at the nearby Augusta Civic Center, brides would pose for their photographs in the park. She said every spring Kennebec Valley Garden Club members would gather there to work on the park, but over the last several years club members either became too old to continue that work or had other obligations.

Foster stopped by the site, after about a half-dozen volunteers, most of them Maine Municipal Bond Bank employees and one Finance Authority of Maine employee, had worked to clear brush there on Earth Day. She was impressed by the efforts to reclaim the overgrown parts of the park.

“They’ve been in there working and Cindy has done a wonderful job organizing it,” Foster said. “A lot of the older club members are delighted that somebody is taking an interest in it.

“It might be a little treasure that most people don’t know about. It’s a nice little park; I think some people in the businesses around there like to get out of the office and walk there,” she added. “We’ve had ice cream socials there. It is kind of private, quiet.”

Roy hopes others will join in what she said will be ongoing efforts to fix the park up. Volunteers worked at the site Thursday, piling up stacks of brush which city workers would later haul off.

“We’re hoping to get more people involved,” Roy said. “We’d like to get some stoneworkers out there, maybe some University of Maine at Augusta students, make it a real community place to go. It’s a beautiful area, a good place for people to go to take a break.”

The park, according to a history of it on the garden club’s website, began in 1973 as a vision of then-City Manager Paul Poulin and Viles, a member of the garden club and chairwoman of the Civic Development Committee. The idea was to keep that spot of land as green space, even as offices were built around it. A University of Maine horticulturist was hired to design the park and its plantings. In 1981, the park was officially dedicated in a gala event with city and state officials, as well as Garden Club Federation of Maine officers.

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