WESTFIELD – “It’s heartbreaking.”
That’s the sentiment of longtime volunteer Joy Bunnell of the recent vandalism of three young trees that were chopped down at Chauncey Allen Park. The park, located off Smith Avenue, is best known because of its signature feature – Grandmothers’ Garden.
Bunnell, who is now in her 22nd year as a volunteer, helps with weeding and plantings throughout the growing seasons. She said this week a $100 reward has been announced in the hope of leading to charges against the individuals responsible for the destruction.
“We only have a handful of volunteers who do their best to beautify the park for the enjoyment of others and it’s disheartening to see others who want to destroy it,” said Bunnell.
Bunnell added she sees the park as a “gem” for the city.
“We get so discouraged,” she said, adding that benches made by Westfield Technical Academy students last year also had paint and graffiti on them within a short period of time after being installed.
Westfield Police Lt. Kevin F. Bard of the community service unit said the value of the damaged trees is $750.
“The first report of a damaged tree was called in July 13,” said Bard, adding, “and the second report of damage to two trees was made Aug. 3.”
Bard said he has conferred with Robert Watkins, president of the Friends of Grandmothers’ Garden group, and both agree there has to be a cooperative effort of community members to report situations of concern when they see it.
“We also encourage people who have their cell phones to take photos of individuals who are vandalizing the park and send those photos to the police department’s Facebook page,” said Bard.
The park has experienced ongoing vandalism in recent years, and Bard noted in all of the recent instances, “There is aggression based on how these things are being damaged.”
Bard noted that even after a trail camera was donated by a local business owner in the hopes of capturing images of vandalism, soon after its installation the batteries and sim card were removed.
“We have seen an uptick in vandalism to city property,” said Bard, who noted that soap bubbles were added to the fountain at Half Mile Park and graffiti has been painted in areas along the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail.
Bard added he has conferred with Scott Hathaway, deputy superintendent of the Westfield Parks and Recreation Department, to use a brush hog for overgrown areas at Chauncey Allen Park to allow for more visibility.
“It’s hard to see the discouragement of the volunteers who work so hard to present the park for the enjoyment of all because we have a select few people who take it upon themselves to vandalize,” said Bard.
Watkins shared a similar sentiment.
“We are taking all of the steps we can to clear areas which will make it easier for people to see what is happening at the park and alert police,” said Watkins.
On another note, Watkins encourages those who enjoy gardening to consider volunteering for a few hours a week.
“If you love to garden, give us a hand too,” said Watkins.
For more details about volunteering or about Grandmothers’ Garden and Chauncey Allen Park, visit grandmothersgarden.org.