By Peggy Middaugh
Resident, Castle Park Neighborhood
Basketball pickup games; kids on swings; soccer tournaments; families picnicking; mothers with strollers ; handball games. All of these are familiar scenes these days in Castle Park, a little known gem located in the heart of Main South. One block off Main Street, it is a peaceful four acre oasis of green, open space and recreational space enjoyed by local residents.
But it hasn’t always been like this. In the early 1990s, Castle Park was an overgrown, trash strewn, abandoned lot. It was well known for illegal drug activities, and needles and drug paraphernalia were everywhere.
But Barbara Haller had a vision. What a crime, she thought, to have such an historical treasure go to waste – and especially in a neighborhood bereft of green open spaces. She was determined to bring it back to reflect its former glory, and went to work making that vision a reality. She put her leadership skills to work – identifying a problem, seeing an opportunity, identifying the appropriate stakeholders, making the connections and having the persistence and determination to see it through year after year.
Barbara began with just hard work – getting the weeds mowed; picking up the trash, disposing the needles, getting her hands dirty. She then identified appropriate partners to help move things along. She engaged the entire neighborhood by getting Castle Park to be one of the Regional Environmental Council’s Earth Day Cleanup sites in 1995; the Army Corps of Engineers was brought in to grade and resurface the walkway; she worked closely with then District 4 City Councilor Janice Nadeau to see that both the tennis court and basketball court were resurfaced and spruced up; trees were planted; the foot path was paved to halt erosion; the broken playground equipment was replaced and a safe playground surface installed; perennials were planted and trash cans and picnic tables added to make the Park a family friendly place.
This was a long term effort, and the work is not yet complete. City Councilor Barbara Haller deserves an enormous amount of credit and thanks for her perseverance in bringing Castle Park to its current status, for taking on an enormous project even when confronted with naysayers who thought it could never be a family Park, and for continuing to be an advocate to this day as District 4 City Councilor. Many people thought this was a doomed effort. It’s hard to turn around a space targeted for illegal activities. But the fact is that Castle Park has been transformed, and every year it gets better. Every year there is less and less illegal activity, less and less trash. Needles are much harder to find now with the positive activities replacing the illegal ones.
This is an example of true leadership. This is an example of making a difference every day in the quality of the lives of the people who live in District 4. I feel personal gratitude for Barbara’s successful campaign to restore Castle Park, as I look out on it every morning as my front yard. While it still faces the challenges of an inner city park, it is today truly a gem and a valuable resource being used by hundreds of people on a weekly basis and Barbara Haller’s vision and leadership is what brought us here.