Hudson's Friends of the Parks have big plans for 2014

Group defends parks from garlic mustard invader

by Marie Pompili Published:

The winter of 2014 will surely go down in history as one of the worst Hudson has ever experienced. After months of living in a frozen white world that resembled Antarctica more than the Midwest, it's hard for anyone to remember the green world of our Hudson parks, the 1,128 acres of preserved land where we spend much of our lives when Mother Nature is in a much better mood. The Friends of Hudson Parks are hard at work planning fun and educational programming for the day when that great big yellow orb in the sky shines warmly and we can go out to play.

You've gotta have friends

The Friends of Hudson Parks was formed in 2011 to "actively support the mission of the Hudson Parks through volunteerism, advocacy, promotion and fund raising. [They] are guided by shared values -- conservation, environmental sustainability, education, community engagement, recreation, health and wellness -- to serve, preserve and enhance the Hudson community through a vibrant park system," according to the organization's mission statement. It is a component fund of the Hudson Community Foundation.

Back in 2011, Hudson resident Mike Shofftstall and his neighbor, Hudson Parks Department Superintendent, Eric Hutchinson, realized there was a need for more effective communication between the parks and the community when many questions about the Turnpike Trail arose. The easy way to facilitate this type of communication was to directly copy the models used by the Summit County MetroParks or the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. However, the Hudson Parks Department realized that any "friends-type" groups needed to be the result of a sort of grassroots effort, Shofftstall says. And so they worked together to call in their like-minded contacts who felt strongly about the sustainability of the Hudson parks and were interested in participating in a "values-based organization with a mission statement reflecting these values and activities guided by them," according to Shofftstall.

The new group needed to be sensitive to the missions of the Summit MetroParks group as well as the Conservancy, ensuring that their own programming did not overlap that of those two organizations. Thus, the Hudson Friends assembled its own board of directors consisting of one representative each from the Hudson Parks (Hutchinson), Hudson Parks Board, Hudson Community Education and Recreation (HCER) and others from the community. On Feb. 15, 2011, the Friends of Hudson Parks had its first meeting. Two months later, the group collaborated with Hudson Parks to plan Earth Day celebrations and later that year partnered with Leadership Hudson to help build the Veterans Way playground.

Of the community

and for the community

The Friends of Hudson Parks is committed to including the community in as many of its efforts as possible. In order to accomplish this, the organization has planned some quite successful events over the past two years, all designed to encourage people to visit the parks and to educate them through participation. One of the longest-running and most necessary programs run by the Friends is the removal of the evil garlic mustard plant invader. While most people enjoy both garlic and mustard, this particular plant is not native to the Hudson park system and can grow unwieldy if left unchecked. Friends member and volunteer Sue Gaetjens has led the charge against the garlic mustard plant for the past year or so after spending time pulling it from the soil in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. According to Schofftstall, removal efforts can begin as early as April and include the help of local scouting groups and student groups from Seton Catholic School, Hudson Montessori School and Western Reserve Academy. This year, the Friends hope to educate the homeowners with property adjacent to Hudson Springs Park on the benefits of removing this invasive species. The garlic mustard removal initiative dovetails nicely into the Friends' Park Beautification Day when the community is invited to visit one of the park system's 20 parks to help clean up and beautify the recreational areas. On April 23, 2013, more than 100 volunteers helped clean up Cascade, Hudson Springs, and Veterans Way Parks.

A treasure hunt

and packing the pond

Geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt through a park or a forest where one uses a GPS-enabled device -- with predetermined coordinates already plugged in -- to locate caches that are buried within a certain area. Once the cache is located, it can be removed from the ground. Often, several items are included in the cache that can be removed -- such as a toy. Typically, if an item is removed, it is replaced with something else. Geocaching is one of the most popular activities sponsored by the Friends of Hudson Parks because, well, who doesn't like a treasure hunt?

Rhonda Kadish, vice president of the Friends, and Hutchinson team up to hide the caches, dream up code words and then plug the coordinates into the hand-held GPS devices distributed to participants. Treasure hunters scour Wildlife Woods searching for six caches, each containing a secret word that they must log in to be eligible to receive the grand prize -- a $100 gift certificate from local business, Vertical Runner. In 2013 the Friends and their sponsor, Vertical Runner, hosted two geocaching events (fall and spring) with more than 100 participants and two winners. This year, Kadish and Hutchinson are handing the reigns over to Bill and Sue Holman, local geocaching enthusiasts who have participated in treasure hunts throughout the country. "They can raise the bar by doing interesting things," says Kadish.

The Friends partner with several businesses and organizations to host the Pack the Pond event in August at Hudson Springs Park. Appalachian Outfitters transports demo kayaks to the lake side for people interested in trying their skill at kayaking, while Jim Sexton of Western Reserve Fly Fishing holds lake side instruction on how to catch a fish without a rod and reel. The Summit Disc Golf Association challenges participants in a good old game of disc golf on the park's disc golf "course" -- visible from Stow Road. In addition to a visit by the Hudson Fire Department fire truck and a round or two of bocce, participants can enter a raffle to win one of the demo kayaks. According to Kadish, roughly 300 people attended the 2013 event. The 2014 Pack the Pond party may move to June.

Other programs sponsored by the friends include the annual photo contest and the extension of Veterans Trail. The winners of the 2013 contest are posted on the organization's web site -- www.friendsofhudsonparks.org.

The Veterans Trail project is one of the Friends of Hudson Parks' largest undertaking. And one they are committed to making a reality. In a nutshell, the Hudson Parks System approved work on this trail which is designed to connect the northern and southern Hudson trail systems with each other and with the Summit County Bike and Hike Trail, as well as the Towpath. The Friends currently have 34 letters of support and have secured six sources of funding including grants and donations, as well as endorsements from such political figures as Senator Rob Portman. They have especially played a key role in securing two six-figure grants by gathering these letters of support and financial contributions, illustrating the commitment of the Hudson community to its parks system. The Akron Area Metropolitan Transit Study (AMATS) has approved funding for the Veterans Trail Phase I project, granting a six-figure sum to forge the trail from Veterans Way Park to Barlow Farm Park. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) also has approved a six-figure grant to the Hudson Parks System.

Be a park ambassador

The Friends of Hudson Parks is thrilled to have introduced such successful programming to draw people into the Hudson Parks System and, yet, they continue to brainstorm new ideas. One such initiative for the 2014 year is the Park Ambassador Program. Ambassadors are people who live close to a park or who are very knowledgeable about a park and who are available to sort of "watch over the park and listen and act as a liaison between their community and the Parks Department," Schofftstall says.

"The ambassador will be a familiar face who can keep an eye on maintenance issues and can promote the group and get other people to volunteer," Kadish says. "They will not act as police so there should be no negative interaction." Ambassadors will receive training on how to educate visitors as well.

Be a member or

just volunteer a bit

At press time, the Friends of Hudson Parks was eagerly awaiting its 501C3 status which would make the group more self-supporting. It also launched a brand new web site detailing the organization, its programming, its mission and values, and providing details on how to support the Veterans Trail effort. During the first half of 2013, site visits were up 300 percent. The winners of the photography contest also can be found on the web site. Currently there are nine active board members and 60 members (membership levels and fees are listed on the web site). One of the group's goals for 2014 is to not only grow its membership, but to encourage its members to get more involved in serving on the various committees, including membership, publicity, and educational programs, among others. "We welcome everybody's help," Schofftstall says.

Falling under the educational programs umbrella is an effort to work with HCER on its programming as well as to start educational programs within the parks themselves, especially youth programs geared toward ecology, green topics and wildlife, Schofftstall says.

The Fall and Spring Hiking Sprees also are ideal events for educational programming.

The Friends of Hudson Parks is working fast and furiously to get the community involved in making decisions in future plans for the Hudson Parks System.

Fun and educational programming and opportunities for volunteers to come together to help keep the parks beautiful are just some of the plans the group has for 2014.

The Veterans Trail is an important part of the group's focus.

To find out more about this initiative visit www.friendsofhudsonparks.org. The web site also includes up-to-date information on Pack the Pond, Geocaching, Green Day, and more.v

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