By Virginia Marchant Schnee
Former City Councilor Steve Patton remembers when young trees and brush had overgrown Dodge Park, obscuring its meadow and making the walkways impassable. The baseball fields that existed fifty years ago, when he was young enough to play Little League, were unrecognizable. In the 100 years since Thomas Dodge donated the 13 acres of land in 1889, many improvements had been added to the park, but over time they had deteriorated.
“There was a lot of dumping going on there, with tepees and the remains of beer parties,” Patton said. “Most of the benches and the bridges in the back were broken but the remnants were still there.”
Patton helped organize the first Regional Environmental Council Earth Day cleanups in 1990, and he said that at the time, tons of heavy trash and debris plagued many sites like Dodge Park. After several years of successful Earth Day cleanups, and once volunteers had removed most of the heavy trash from these other areas, he set his sights on Dodge Park.
“How many times do you have a chance to reclaim a park that’s gone fallow?” asked Patton. “It was a great opportunity to do some good.”
With the support of the REC and the assistance of many cleanup participants, including the Indian Lake Association and Boy Scout Troop 54, Dodge Park underwent a transformation. Year by year, they opened up a little more of Dodge Park, and their work drew the attention of then- Parks Commisioner Beth Prokow.