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By Geena Matuson
Hometown Weekly Staff
The ribbon to Medfield’s newest park at 1 North Street was cut last Wednesday evening as part of the Straw Hat Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. From half past six to nearly eight o’clock, live music could be heard and ice cream could be had as the new Straw Hat Park opened at the center of Medfield. Nestled between Zebra’s Bistro and Starbuck’s, this lush area of green was overflowing with locals engaging in the new park. Adding to the fun of the evening were musicians Tom Duprey and David Hawthorne, and an ice cream truck was parked at the back of the park with kids and parents alike feasting on cold treats in the hot summer evening. The park not only features outdoor chess tables, building blocks and other interactive activities, but also features a one-of-a-kind interactive fountain, which kids were running through and playing with the throughout the night. Former Police Chief William Mann and 51-year town crossing guard veteran and Police Matron Elisabeth T. Mann were in attendance, sitting in lawn chairs overlooking the crowd. Today is officially the first year Medfield is celebrating Elisabeth T. Mann Day, having been declared official on July 21st of last year upon her retirement.
Jean Mineo, Director of the Straw Hat Park Committee, was adorned in a straw hat and a wide smile as she spoke with families and others interested in the park. “The people in the park, the kids, bring this whole project together and really complete it," she said. "This is who the park is for, and it’s so great to see so many people already enjoying it!” Jean serves as Chair of the town’s Cultural Alliance, and has also served on the Cultural Council, as well as working on various public art projects in Boston. Her interests have always aimed to serve the community with arts and space projects for the public.
The ribbon cutting ceremony began at seven o’clock with a speech from Mineo, quoting an Emily Dickinson poem on nature to highlight the importance of public parks and access for all. Jean’s speech was followed by an overview of the park by Monique Allen, CEO and Creative Director of The Garden Continuum, opening with “a big hand to Jean Mineo, who was a great leader and director of the Straw Hat Committee … It’s not easy to bring together volunteers, and it was done with perseverance and grace.”
Monique’s company donated all design services for the space. Many other local businesses followed suit. The key to the park’s success rests in sustainable design. As Monique explained, sustainable design will jumpstart a new ecology that takes care of itself; by carefully choosing certain plants and strategically placing them around the park, the space will start to self-maintain, requiring half as much water just next year. This will not only cost the town less in taxes each year, but the park will continue to grow; in one year, the park will look nothing like it does now. Three years down the road, it will look different still. While trees and shrubs will be maintained, they will grow to be much larger. The goal is to make sure visitors feel nestled in the environment and nature, surrounded by tall trees such as the maples and pear trees along the perimeter. The shrubbery and other plant life will create a canopy and allow you to forget you’re in the middle of a small, suburban town.
The park boasts over 200 engraved bricks donated by families in support of the park, and another 40 families donated without recognition. Along the paved pathway, Richard DeSorgher manned a glass cabinet and framed artworks to show the history of the area - and how the park got its name. In the 1800s, a straw hat factory once existed where present-day Montrose School stands, just down the block from the new park area. Richard even had a few straw hats on display with maker’s labels on which ‘Medfield’ was printed. When in 2006 the Downtown Study Committee Commissioner Reports identified town assets that could be cultivated for public use, this space between Zebra’s Bistro and the then-Mobile gas station was identified. However, a park beside a gas station was not such an attractive idea. By 2013, though, Starbuck’s had replaced the gas station. Public interest in this space was expressed, and the eight-person Straw Hat Committee was created with Jean Mineo as Director.
Due to proximity to the former straw hat factory, residents voted the park be named "Straw Hat Park." Of course, public involvement in the planning was key; after all, the space was created for the community. Over the last few years, the Straw Hat Committee has been assessing the land through observational study and surveys. You may have noticed last Medfield Day, giant chalkboards were setup at the site in order to gather public opinion for park planning. Over 180 comments were collected, including many who wanted the space to be "durable" and "available for multiple generations to come." The committee placed various community items in the park over the last few years in order to see how people interacted with the space to help inform planning and layout, including the setup of Adirondack chairs. Even a piano was setup for several weeks.
After the final speech was made, Jean took a step back to announce: “This is the picture opportunity of the day!” Everyone watched as members of the Straw Hat Committee helped Monique Allen to cut the ribbon to the park, and the crowd roared with applause. The music started back up, and everyone looked at the park with fresh eyes.
With the park now officially open to the public and ready for use, locals are encouraged to head to the center of Medfield for a pleasant day in nature at the new Straw Hat Park. You can also follow park updates, see photos and video of its construction, design and more online at www.facebook.com/StrawHatPark.