By Alice E. Gerard
Changes are coming to DeGlopper Park at the corner of Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard in the next few months. The park is being doubled in size, with the addition of land donated by Mobil, the former owner of a now-removed gas station located next to the park. Another change involves the removal of the red maple trees that were planted in DeGlopper Park in 1996. Those trees will be replaced with 17 trees of a variety of species that will be planted at a later date.
According to Dan Drexelius, construction manager of the park expansion project, "Timmy Wendt over at Woodchuck is going to take the trees down free of charge for us."
Former Town Supervisor Mary Cooke, who has been researching the history of DeGlopper Park, said that she doesn't want people to panic when they see the trees being removed. "You start cutting down memorial trees and, rightfully so, people would be horrified. What's the plan? What are we doing here? The good news is that we are going to have something much better, with the new drainage and the new trees being planted. Hopefully, that will work."
Removal of trees is nothing new for this park that was established in the early 1960s. Planning for the park began in 1961. Developers of the Grand Island Plaza donated the land in the early 1960s. At that time, the East Park Garden Club was approached by Town Supervisor George Thorn "to work out a garden plan." According to an article in the Niagara Falls Gazette, dated May 26, 1962, the garden plans were worked out by 12 members of the East Park Garden Club. The plans were later changed by several professional landscape architects. Original plans called for the park to be beautified with "shrubs, top soil, professional planting, and a drinking fountain," according to the article. The American Legion Auxiliary Post 1034 was planning to donate a bench, according to the article. Cooke said that the original trees to be planted at the park were a set of eight fir trees to honor eight service members who were killed in action during World War II, including Medal of Honor recipient Charles N. DeGlopper. Those trees were planted in 1962.
The fir trees did not thrive. They were later replaced by red maple trees. But, Mary Cooke said, red maple trees "hate salt." Those trees were moved to Veterans Park. The trees that replaced the red maples were crimson maples, which were planted in 1996. "They were allegedly both salt tolerant and excessively water tolerant. It would appear that they are now 22 years old. They are not thriving. Now, there is an opportunity to get new trees," Cooke said.
Drexelius said that the trees currently in the park "are under water all of the time. So they look like heck." The Town of Grand Island, along with the State of New York, is going to donate all new trees up there." But, before the trees can be planted, much work needs to be done in the park. This fall, the land will be raised to improve the drainage, said Deputy Town Supervisor Jim Sharpe. "We're going to raise the land itself so it crowns. In the area right now, it kind of contours. We will raise it up so the drainage is better. We are not taking out the big trees, but we are removing the smaller trees that have been struggling to survive. The soil that they were planted in wasn't very good and nourishing for the trees." He added that the crimson maple trees will be replaced by 17 trees of various species.
"We don't want to have the same type because, if we have another epidemic of bugs, we don't want to lose all of the trees," Sharpe said. He added, "We're looking to put a sprinkler system in place that would support the trees and the grass through the dry periods."
In addition, this fall, there will be electrical work done underground. The trees "will be lit up at Christmas time to make them look very nice. All of the flagpoles will be lit." In addition, there will be decorative street lights to illuminate the park.
A stone path will be put in place, said Drexelius. The stones will be inscribed with the names of veterans. "People can honor veterans by buying stones. We want to honor all veterans who have ever served. As long as you lived on Grand Island at any point in your life, you can be honored." Also, according to Sharpe, there will be glass etchings for each of the 17 who were killed in action in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War. The families of those men will write the information about each one, and the "technology department of Grand Island High School is doing the etching of the glass. It will be fabulous," Sharpe said.
In addition, the town is reapplying for funding from the Niagara River Greenway Commission to help finance the project. "We've got the project pegged at around half a million dollars. We're halfway there with the funding. But we really need more help. Some speculated that the previous denial was because of the gun in the statue but, in further discussion with Greenway, it had nothing to do with that, but with the fact that they can only give out $6 million and they had so many projects that they did the ones that they could finance at that time."
"I think that it is a fantastic project," Sharpe said. "It will be a fantastic centerpiece to the Town of Grand Island. This jewel placed in the middle of it is going to be perfect. It is going to be gorgeous. I am enthusiastic about it."
Drexelius said that he is excited about the project. "I want to honor in a proper way all of those men who gave their lives." He said that people could help by having a paving stone inscribed, by donating money to the project, and by donating their labor. "We're going to have several work parties coming up." The dates of the work parties will be announced later.
Also excited about the project is Charles DeGlopper's nephew, Ray DeGlopper, a Vietnam veteran. "I like the idea, I like what's going on, and I like the plan, and I think that the statue is fantastic. This project is a nice project. When it gets done, it will honor everybody. Charlie was just one person."
Drexelius said that the goal is to have the park opened on June 9, 2020, to "unveil the statue and the completed park and to have a lot of cool surprises for people that day."