Building on the beauty of Hampton's Bicentennial Park

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Community grows at beach park

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, July 8, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

Linda Gebhart of Hampton waters black-eyed susans in the municipal gardens that she and her husband John, along with community service volunteers at Winnacunnet High School, planted at Bicentennial Park in Hampton on Thursday, July 17. The Gepharts wish to continue beautifying the park with help from donations to add wood trimmings and more plants and a large tree there. [Scott Yates photo.]

If you walk by Bicentennial Park at North Beach lately you may notice something is different at the historic park, which once was the site of the former Life-Saving Station.

The park, which was neglected over the years, is back and looking better than ever with the addition of what can only be described as a real community garden. Members of the "Friends of Bicentennial Park" said they have transformed the park located just past the north end of the sea wall into something the town can again be proud of.

"It was mess when we started in April," said Linda Gebhart, who along with Geannina Guzman-Scanlan spearheaded the project. "It's really has come together."

Gebhart, a member of the Hampton Beach Beautification Committee, said the project got started because supporters wanted to spread the beauty to the beach's northern gateway. For the last two years, Gebhart and others have spruced up Hampton Beach by planting 11 trees and creating a garden in a traffic island on Route 1A. Those projects were funded by the Hampton Beach Village Precinct. "We wanted to do something on the other side of the beach," Gebhart said. "We looked at Bicentennial Park and said something needs to be done there."

Gebhart said the town owned historic park was dedicated in June 1975 by the Hampton American Revolution Bicentennial Committee in honor of the nation's 200th anniversary. It had become overgrown with poison ivy and bitter sweet vines. Gebhart said the "Salty Marsh Garden Club," which had taken care of the garden, was no more. But with no funds from the town or the Hampton Beach Village Precinct, Gebhart said the "Friends" had to look outside the box to make the project a reality.

The first step was applying for and receiving a $400 grant from the Portsmouth Garden Club. With the grant in hand in the committee then "adopted" the park through the Hampton and Recreation and Parks Department's Adopt-a-Spot Program. What happened next, Gebhart explained, was a real community effort to restore the park.

Winnacunnet High School students along with teacher Cathy Silver volunteered their time April to clean up the park and prepare the site for planting. From there Winnacunnet science teacher John Croteau grew 10 flats of flowers while the owners of the Hampton Harbor Motel donated the "Kayla" row boat for a planter.

As work continued more people came forward to support the project. Former selectman Vic Lessard gave the group top soil and field stones for the park while Aquarion Water Co. agreed to donate water service to the garden.

The Governor's Wildflower & Lilac Commission gave the group 22 lilac bushes while Churchill's Garden Center of Exeter donated soil for plants potted in two large urns placed near the park's monument.

"It was truly amazing," Gebhart said. "It was like there was something bigger at work and there was a real good energy about the project. I think the ladies from the Salty Marsh Garden Club were showering their blessings from heaven."

The "Friends" also received a $250 from the Hampton Rotary Club and an anonymous $500 donation. The donations were used on irrigation and building a pathway from the sidewalk into the park to help with the stormwater runoff and foot traffic erosion.

Gebhart said work on the garden continues and come August the group will plant some Elm trees at the park. "We got a donation from the Liberty Elm Tree Institute valued at $2,400," Gebhart said. "The local Boy Scouts will be helping us with planting."

Gebhart said her one hope is that once the garden is complete the community will help maintain it.

"We don't want what happened before to happen again," Gebhart said. "This really became a community effort and we need the community to join us to help water and care for the flowers."

Gebhart, who visits the park daily to check up on the flowers, said a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't compliment the garden.

"It's been heartwarming to hear people's positive comments when they visit the park," Gebhart said. "It really is a community garden."

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