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Community stewardship in action at Stark Park on Celebrate Trails Day in Manchester
Published in the Manchester Ink Link Monday, April 26th, 2021

Communicast has been exploring the great things good people have been doing during and despite the difficulties this pandemic has caused.

A 2010 study at the University of California – San Diego showed that acts of kindness spread surprisingly easily – just a few people can make a difference and such is the case with Stark Park.  While government agencies have had their hands full, volunteers and organizations have been tackling projects across Manchester to help fellow residents at no cost to the city.

With a full year of restrictions on indoor gatherings, Manchester Moves ignited a tremendous outpouring of volunteerism focused on outdoor recreation. Their long-term vision is connecting and expanding rail trails and rail with trail options that promote outdoor activity and good health. Their most immediate opportunity was to repair the state-managed Heritage Trail North section where it passed through Stark Park and to connect it to The Walk in the Woods trail inside the park itself.  Physically distanced outdoor activities including the use of rail trails have been a lifeline for many through this past year.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig (left) with Paul and Denise Pouilot, head speakers for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki people at the Celebrate Trails Day event in Stark Park. The Mayor is holding one of the many gifted plantings of wildflowers available at the event. Photo | Keith Spiro

Guests at the celebration commented on memories of river views and ball fields and open spaces where they played as kids decades ago. Paul and Denise Pouilot, head speakers of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki people were invited to bless the land and acknowledge the 12,000 years their ancestors have stewarded this place.  Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig called the work “an incredible transformation” and acknowledged that “it takes these public-private partnerships to really make a difference in our city.”

Manchester Moves spearheaded the significant private donations that paid for most all the work as well as the 12 bicycles that were purchased and made available to Manchester Community Policing to distribute in the well-publicized bicycle safety poster contest.

Manchester Moves Jason Soukup with son Simeon riding his shoulders inviting Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg and Community Affairs Division Supervisor Sgt. Tom Dubois to make a few remarks. Photo | Keith Spiro

Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg who spoke at the event said, “Jason (Soukup), Manchester Moves, the Friends of Stark Park and the crews that were doing all the work down here” are the “true heroes … setting the great example for our children who are here today.”

Manchester Community Affairs Division Supervisor, Sgt. Tom Dubois, and Manchester Moves Elizabeth Soukup presented the bikes.

Manchester PD Community Affairs Division Supervisor Sgt. Tom Dubois and Manchester Moves Elizabeth Soukup announcing the winners of the bicycles. Photo | Keith Spiro

MEASURING IMPACT

Jason Soukup, Board Secretary for Manchester Moves, offered up records of some 1,976 volunteer hours. These consisted of volunteer workday events, the activity and work of the all-volunteer board and hands on work that board members Peter Noonan and Garrett McLarty in particular, delivered during the most recent four months along with the 100 hours Gary Hunter spent clipping back invasives. Soukup also commended the tremendous efforts of Ricardo and his team from Customview Property Maintenance. Mark Gomez, Chief of City Parks and Recreation, added his own comments about the collaborative nature of the volunteers.

Visually the power of the event was seen on the faces and in the actions of the children who attended with their parents. They stood closest to the trailhead ribbon cutting.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig (right) and NH Rail Trails Coalition Board Member Tom Christensen (left) with Manchester Moves Jason Soukup carrying his son Simeon just moments before the Mayor cut the ribbon officially opening the “Walk in the Woods” Trails at Stark Park on Saturday April 24, 2021. Photo | Keith Spiro

And they charged through the opening as the ribbon slid away.

Perhaps the most powerful measure of the day was the note and photos the mother of Teddy (age 6), who received a bike, sent to organizers after the event:

“Thank you so much for providing such an amazing experience today. Teddy won a bike and was just thrilled. This is a huge moment in the life of a 6 year old – especially one whose life has been so restricted and uneventful for the past year because of covid. If there’s ever anything I can do in terms of writing a testimonial, etc. please don’t hesitate to be in touch! Please feel free to use these images too.

Stewardship is about the future. About safekeeping and protecting our resources. This whole experience has been one of demonstrating Community Stewardship at its best. Congratulations Manchester and the people and organizations that created and supported Celebrate Trails Day at Stark Park.

RESOURCES:  If you would like to help, consider these resources:

CITY

Want to help maintain your favorite city park – Manchester has an Adopt a Park program

or Learn more about all of Manchester’s recreational trails

NON PROFITS

Impressed or curious about Manchester Moves? Their goals encompass reducing poverty, increasing mobility, improving health, recreation opportunities and promoting economic growth by connecting people, trails and greenways in greater Manchester

Interested in non-motorized vehicles and walking trails Statewide: The New Hampshire Rail trail coalition pulls together 29 state rail trail organizations working on 52  trails covering 380+ miles of Rail trails