By Michael Howell
The idea of having a park in the town of Victor was born just after the Victor Garden Club was formed. The Club was formed in 1947 and in 1948, “the idea of establishing a public park as a means of improving the community of Victor was born in the minds of the Garden Club members,” it states on the club’s poster board account of Victor Park Through the Years.
In 1949, it goes on to state, “lots were secured by donation, payment of delinquent taxes, and ‘whatever other means were expedient’.”
Weeds and debris were cleared. The park site was leveled. Grass, shrubs, and flowers were planted. The “Exchange” was formed and new and used goods were sold to support the park’s maintenance and improvement. The fundraising effort yielded $1,000 over the next five years. In 1950 a lawn mower and pump were purchased and a caretaker hired. Sprinklers were installed the next year.
For years on end, things like park benches and restrooms, picnic tables and trees were added between ever-recurring fundraisers of one sort or another. A shelter and fireplace were added in 1967. New toilets and storage sheds were added in 1979. A swing set was added in 1986.
Throughout all those years continuing right up to the plant sale held last week at the park, Victor Garden Club members have continued to plow huge amounts of energy into the fundraising required to meet the simple maintenance costs that can run from $5,000 to $6,000 annually.
But the sad fact is, it’s not going to last much longer. Not only is the club old, but the members are as well.
“We are old and tired,” said Tressa Baker, Garden Club President, who was at the park helping with the club’s annual plant sale last Friday. She said club members were too old, too frail or too infirm, to continue the kind of fundraising they did in the past.
Club members are also a bit frustrated.
As Baker explains it, it was the club’s intention to turn the park over to the Victor Park District once it was formed. The district was formed by public ballot in November 2002.
A pamphlet introducing the idea of the park district to the voters was published which stated that, “Once the discussion of forming a park district in Victor began, other groups began to see the advantage of joining together to combine efforts and resources. An informal opinion poll overwhelmingly supported the idea of creating a park district that would oversee and support four existing groups. The four groups are: the Highway 93 Landscaping, The Victor Garden Club (who own and operate the Victor Park), the Victor Ball Park, and the Victor Improvement Project (who are working towards some enhancements on Main Street). Each of these groups would keep their independent status, but would receive financial help from the new park district.”
Baker said the Victor Park District has not kept its promise and has not funded the Victor Park as they advertised to the voters in 2002. She said it has been six years since the park district was formed and it is time for that board to decide if they want Victor Park or not.
“If they don’t want it, we are ready to sell it,” said Baker. She said the property has not been listed but that the organization has already received a few offers.
“We don’t want to sell it,” said Baker. “We would prefer that it stay a park. If the Victor Park District would take it that would be a win/win for everyone, I think. We think the town should be aware of the situation.”
Victor Park District Board member Katie Gerhard said that the board has mixed feelings about the Victor Park. She said that the park district had an annual budget of $16,000 but has an obligation to maintain and improve the existing parks in its care which include the Highway 93 improvements, the Main Street improvements and the ball park.
“We can barely maintain what we have on our current budget,” said Gerhard. “It’s very impractical to take on more than we can fiscally manage.” She said that public ownership of Victor Park was worth considering, but she had trouble committing the district to a new fiscal obligation that it cannot presently meet.
“But no decision has been made about this,” said Gerhard. She said that the last time the Garden Club was before the park district board, all they asked for was help in meeting their needs. She said they did not mention donating the park to the public at that time.
“We said that we would help them with fundraising and with a membership drive,” said Gerhard.
Gerhard said the issue was very complicated. She said there were questions about how taxpayer dollars from the district could be spent on a privately owned park and there were also a lot of questions that need to be answered about how the park could become public property.
“It seems like it is the County that would have to accept ownership and not the Park District,” said Gerhard.
Park District Board member Roger DeHaan clarified this, saying that the law does give the Park District the authority to own property, but because it is a county supported district it would need the approval of the County Commission to accept ownership.
DeHaan said that he was hopeful that something could be worked out to make Victor Park a public park in perpetuity.
“To start things off the owner of the property, the Victor Garden Club, needs to actually and officially ask the park district to take the property. They have not ever actually, in writing, asked our board to consider accepting the parkland as a donation,” said DeHaan. “Maybe that will happen at our next board meeting.”
That meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 23 at Farmers State Bank in Victor at 7 p.m. For more information contact Roger DeHaan at 961-3953.