Funds helps restore park's land, garden

Minute Man National Historical Park will see significant restoration efforts start later this year, thanks to an early birthday present from the government and a little help from its friends at the Massachusetts Arborists Association.

Earlier this month, about 200 volunteers from the Massachusetts Arborists Association (MAA) celebrated Arbor Day by sprucing up Minute Man National Historical Park, clearing unhealthy, invasive and dying shrubbery around North Bridge. The arborists also planted, transplanted and pruned shade trees throughout the park during their May 1 visit.

“I think the value of the work the arborists did was $200,000 plus — it’s years’ worth of work they did,” park Superintendent Nancy Nelson said. “It was a happy coincidence they wanted to volunteer this year.” 

Not only are both the group and park celebrating anniversaries this year — MAA their 30th and Minute Man its 50th — but the group’s Arbor Day project at the park comes on the heels of Minute Man receiving an influx in funding for restoration work from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, and the National Park Service.  

The park has received $1.683 million through the ARRA for restoration projects at Buttrick Gardens, agricultural fields and the John Nelson house and barn. Earlier this year, Minute Man received $86,000 from the National Park Service to address safety issues within Buttrick Gardens.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity, and challenging, but I think we’re up to it,” Nelson said of receiving ARRA funding for the projects, which must be completed by Sept. 30, 2010. “With luck we could work through Thanksgiving. If the crews are in place and the snow holds off until Christmas, I think we could get some very significant work done through late fall.”

Work to be done

The Minute Man projects approved for ARRA funding were originally submitted as four separate projects and consolidated down to two, according to Nelson, who said the projects were all in the National Park Service’s pipeline. 

Of the $1.683 million of ARRA funds pouring into the park, $1.23 million is for restoration of the John Nelson House and barn in Lincoln, and $560,000 will be split between restoring Buttrick-designed landscape and sprucing up historic agricultural fields throughout the park

Each of the projects will have a youth training and employment component, and Minute Man is working to connect with youth organizations.

 “Engaging youth is a central NPS focus because the upcoming generations will be the stewards of our national parks and, indeed of our nation in the future,” Nelson said. “Our nation and our world are changing rapidly and dramatically, and we want young people to understand and cherish the national treasures that the National Park Service strives to protect. Only with the support of the American people will we be able to maintain the National Park system. We want youth from all parts of our society to be with us now and in the years to come.”

Nelson said all of the National Park Service’s parks participated in a careful review to determine which projects would have the greatest economic benefits in the shortest amount of time. In total, 800 National Park Service projects were selected to receive $750 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

“This is a very, very important opportunity for national parks to address some of their most pressing needs,” Nelson said.

A garden overgrown

“This is the park’s front door,” Nelson said last Friday as she descended displaced stone steps along an overgrown stairway leading into Buttrick Gardens. “It’s gratifying to be able to make some very substantial improvements.”

The four ARRA-funded projects should run concurrently for at least part of the time, but the Buttrick-designed landscape work is likely to be first, according to Nelson, who said she would have more information after meeting with potential partners in the coming weeks. 

 “There is a vast variety of plants throughout the garden,” Nelson said. “Stedman Buttrick was famous for his hybridizing violets and day lilies, so there are extraordinary varieties of violets and day lilies here.”

But many of Buttrick Gardens’ features go unnoticed, overshadowed by unkempt overgrown shrubbery, which invite visitors to stray from walkways missing large sections of stones and surrounded by rusted wrought iron handrails and trees that need trimming.

“The garden is not so well-managed right now, so it’s not maintained at a level that demands respect,” Nelson said. 

Rehabilitation work to Buttrick Gardens will tend to the garden’s architectural features, including wrought iron gates, fences and railings, as well as stone and brick walls, stone terraces and walkways. It also calls for rejuvenation or replacement of plantings, such as trees, shrubs and perennials.

Moving forward, Nelson expects things will be looking better for the beloved Buttrick Gardens. Minute Man this year has received a long-awaited annual operating increase of $315,000, which should help the park service to better maintain the garden after the restoration efforts are complete.

“I’m not a historian, I’m a landscape architect, so this really means a lot to me,” Nelson said of the financial support for Buttrick Garden. “It’s hard to watch a garden like this overgrow and deteriorate.”

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