Last year, the Downing Park Planning Committee made it its goal to host one program every month at Downing Park in 2020. After two successful events in January and February and one planned for March, things quickly took a turn.
Just like everyone else, they soon realized this year wouldn’t be like any other and that their goal wouldn’t be able to be met given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they found new and different ways to bring attention to the park.
The early 2020 events were a hit – including an evening of poetry with Mayor Torrance Harvey and a lecture by local historian Michael Green on Caroline DeWint Downing Monell, who was the wife of Andrew Jackson Downing.
When the pandemic changed everyone’s lives, the Downing Park Planning Committee knew they would continue to keep the park open throughout the year. This was their way of offering residents a place to “enjoy nature and the outdoors while maintaining a safe social distance.”
In the warmer months over the summer, the City of Newburgh closed the roads through the park to create a more walk-able environment. While this led to not as much parking in the nearby area, there was an increase in people enjoying the park. Additionally, outdoor exercise classes, including tai chi, pilates and zumba were offered in the park.
Though, Downing Park Planning Committee President Kathy Parisi recalls one of Downing Park’s highlights being the planting of several new trees along Third Street. This was able to happen thanks to partnership with the National Audubon Society.
“They wanted to do their fall planting video in the park,” said Parisi about the National Audubon Society partnership. “They came with a company that supplies trees and plants. Because it is the Audubon Society, they are plants and trees that attract birds.”
They are hoping to see these new additions bloom by the spring.
Additionally, they planted trees west of the Polly and along Haible Way, which was sponsored by Newburgh residents. Other initiatives were also able to happen like beginning to plan the clearing of the path on Dubois Street thanks to the office of Senator James Skoufis and Friends of Mac Glenn. The path will be dedicated to Glenn, who passed away from COVID-19 in March and whose mom was a founding member of the Downing Park Planning Committee.
The Mayor’s Summer Youth Program helped prune bushes and mulch over the summer as well. The eastern section of the park was also replanted with native plants and bulbs.
“There were a lot of new people who came into the park and discovered it,” said Parisi. “It always amazes me how it’s on such a busy corner, but people drive by. They don’t venture in and explore it a little. We have great trails and literature available for people including a walking history they can do.”
Heading into the new year, there is a lot to look forward to from the Downing Park Planning Committee. For one, they are collaborating with the Newburgh/Malboro Garden Club to “transform the Route 9W side of the park in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Downing Park and Central Park.”
“We’re strictly funded by donations and the occasional grant,” said Parisi. “But we also haven’t had a lot of expenses because we haven’t had a lot of programs.”
Though, they are hoping 2021 has a brighter future. Being both made up by volunteers and being funded by grants and donations, and not being able to hold their July fundraiser in 2020, they are asking for help from the public.
One of their biggest projects they are hoping to do in 2021 is restore the bridge over the Polly, which was demolished more than 30 years ago.
“When the committee started the renovation of the park it had to be removed,” said Parisi. “We have been trying for the last several years to rebuild it. We have received some donations to do that.”
Additionally, they hope to upgrade the exterior bathroom and reclaim the bust of Dante that for years graced the entrance to the pergola, and more recently can be found outside the Newburgh Free Library.
If you are interested in donating or learning more about either Downing Park or the Downing Park Planning Committee, visit downingparknewburgh.org.