WATERTOWN — For decades, volunteers have joined efforts to make improvements in Thompson Park that resulted in more people enjoying the city-owned historic park.
This fall was no exception.
Volunteers came together once again to complete two more projects — creating continued access to the park’s trail system and another tree planting celebrating Arbor Day.
This fall, the Friends of Thompson Park spearheaded a project to clear out an entrance point to the park’s trail system at the corner of Gotham Street and Thompson Boulevard.
The collaboration between the city, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Student Conservation Association opened up a trail head on a steep hill.
In recent years, the Friends of the park has focused on widening trails and reopening underutilized portions of the park.
Phil Sprague, chairman of the Friends group, said the efforts will allow more park users to hike, run, take their dogs for walks, cross country ski and go snowshoeing for years to come.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the park that made it more beautiful,” said Mr. Sprague, a frequent park user who’s been actively involved in beatification efforts of Thompson Park over the decades.
While the pandemic delayed this year’s Arbor Day celebrations, about 60 park enthusiasts came together a couple weeks ago to plant 50 bare-root trees in the area located just south of the playground between the splash pad and the tennis courts.
Members of Tree Watertown, the Watertown Noon Rotary Club, the Northern New York Community Foundation, local Boy Scouts and other youth groups worked on helping restore valuable tree canopy and help mitigate the effects of expected ash tree removal due to the emerald ash borer.
During the event, the group also honored former Mayor T. Urling Walker for his dedication to furthering urban forestry efforts in Watertown dating back to the 1970s. That day, a plaque for the former mayor was placed to commemorate all of his efforts.
The former mayor was the founder of Tree Watertown, the city’s tree advisory board, and is a long time member of the Friends of the park.
Mr. Sprague remembered that the former mayor recruited his help in 1980 on his first tree planting. They’ve worked on countless others ever since.
“He really introduced me to it,” said Mr. Sprague, who frequently walks his Bernese Mountain Dog and runs through the park’s trails.
He and the other members of the Friends of the park meet monthly to talk about future projects and improvements.
They’re planning to placing a series of kiosks throughout the park that will tell users about its trails and the park’s rich history.
Last month, they got to see some conceptual plans for a band stage that would be built on the site where the city holds an annual Fourth of July holiday event.
As history would have it, Mayor Walker and other community leaders worked on a similar project decades ago.
Those efforts never materialized, but money raised for the project ended up being used to set up an endowment for Tree Watertown.
That funding helped finance tree planting efforts for years, Mr. Sprague recalled. Thousands of trees have been planted from the root of those early days.