Stark Park today: Celebrating Community Stewardship in Manchester
Published April 24th, 2021 in the Manchester Ink Link
Stark Park, once home and now final resting place of Revolutionary War hero General John Stark has long been a public place supporting both the respectful solemnity of a small family gravesite but also as part of a 30-acre gift to the City of Manchester for the benefit of future generations.
As Manchester navigates a world of revolutionary change wrought by a pandemic, the demand for housing and also safe spaces outdoors for families to be active has become a central focus in discussions around the community. Manchester Moves emerged as a quiet leader in connecting residents with outdoor opportunities. Over the past few months the group has spearheaded a coalition of volunteers from all walks of life to reclaim the trails and cut back the overgrown bushes and tree-choking vines that threaten the health of the maple trees throughout the Stark Park property.
Jason and Betsy Soukup are two of the very visible catalysts involved in connecting community in these otherwise isolating times. As a family and with safety protocols in mind, they have channeled the energy of people like Ricardo and his team to put in a huge number of hours before and after a normal workday to help remove the invasive plants and vines that had been slowly strangling the trees.
Friends and family brought Marcel Mercier, founder of Macy Industries and former chair of the Manchester Airport Authority, his son Nick and grandson Mason into the mix. Marcel loves to use his hands and in the role of grandfather, he and Mason built the owl house that now provides a suitable habitat.
Ronald, Joyce and 3-year-old Gracie Apollo lent a hand and brought food to share at the Kid Construction Day which brought out families from around the city. Manchester native and talented illustrator Peter Noonan lent his skills in many ways, from graphic design and map creation to repairing and rebuilding safe paths in what is now “A Walk in the Woods” within the park boundaries.
With the world as a classroom, local children have been able to learn the basic values of working with their hands and imagination while being schooled in the value of stewardship.
The Soukups invited Paul and Denise Pouilot of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People to participate. The Pouilots have provided historical background and forward-looking suggestions from the deep experience of their people who have been stewards of this land long before General Stark got here.
In his lifetime, John Stark was able to see the river from his property and many years later Henry David Thoreau was able to note in one of his books that he had seen Stark’s monument from the Merrimack River.
Today that view is restored, the forested land has a chance to breathe and children can explore their environment in a hands-on approach away from the glowing screens that occupy so much of our time. Here is a place where you can enjoy nature up close without ever leaving the city.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig in a special preview shared her first impressions and stated she was “tremendously grateful for the volunteers who had the vision and didn’t sit on it. They have been working extremely hard and our city now has the benefit of this beautiful area to enjoy”
We have the opportunity to continue moving quickly with the transformation of old factories to high-tech and med-tech needs. Abandoned and neglected rail lines within the city can be changed into modern efficient urban pathways. Schools can continue the transformation needed to support the future of work and play in the Queen City and beyond. Good stewardship is a responsibility for all of us.
Jason and Betsy Soukup noted “The Stark Park ribbon cutting for “A Walk in the Woods” & “Heritage Trail North” trail system is a success because of the collaborative efforts of The City of Manchester, The Friends of Stark Park, and Manchester Moves.” Additional organizations that have participated in creating this reason for celebration include Manchester Parks and Recreation, Manchester Community Policing, The Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition and in-kind donations from Macy Industries, BobCat of New Hampshire, Customview Property Maintenance, Milford Lumber, NoonanArts, Kitchen on River Road, 900 Degree Pizzeria, ManchesterGrows, and Cycles, Etc.