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Fredonian Park a quiet gem with a colorful past

SHIRLEY — On a recent Saturday afternoon, about a dozen volunteers answered the Conservation Commission’s call for helping hands to spruce up Fredonian Park.

Chairman Nancy Askin and other commissioners were on site to direct the project.

They singled out work areas and identified invasive plants amid trees, dense bushes, tangled branches and thriving greenery surrounding the park’s algae-slicked pond.

Brush to be pulled was tagged. The aim was to leave watershed shrubs intact; trees such as dogwood and elder will fare better with some of the growth cleared away, Askin said. For now, the goal wasn’t to uproot or remove trees, she said, only hand-cutting that won’t disrupt bird habitat.

Some growth might look like weeds but was worth saving, Askin said, invasive or not, such as autumn olives, a woody plant that blooms with bright berries in season and can grow as tall as 20 feet.

Former commissioner John Rounds and selectmen Chairman David Swain were among the volunteer laborers, some of whom brought their own tools. Everybody pitched in, hacking off low branches and yanking out stubborn vines, thinning the thick growth.

Askin brought refreshments for the hard-working crew as well as gloves and an array of botanical books and other reference materials.

When a reporter arrived, Steve Hanson was aboard a tractor in the parking lot, spreading gravel the DPW had dumped there for the purpose, leveling the area and making it more accessible. The dirt lot was pocked and uneven and slippery when wet, Askin explained.

During a brief guided tour of the pond’s walkable perimeter, she pointed out plants that included the olive bushes and a furry kind of pear.

There were other points of interest, too. For example, what looked like moorings for a bridge on the banks of the Catacunemaug, opposite the pond, could be remnants from the park’s colorful past. It had boasted a swimming pond, a wooden bridge and walking trails and picnic tables as well as the bandstand gazebo, a dominant park feature today.

The gazebo dates to 1978, according to a plaque mounted on its stone wall. It was donated by Eric Shapiro, founder and owner of nearby Phoenix Park, an office and small business complex created from restored old mill buildings.

The gazebo was dedicated in memory of Shapiro’s grandparents, Ida and Hyman Perlstein and their children, and Phoenix Beverage employees and their families. Hyman Perlstein owned the former beverage company.

Next: Fredonian Park History.