Local New London guys pitching in at Williams Park
New London — Jonathan Haddon considers Williams Memorial Park on Broad Street his front yard.
He’s lived in an apartment overlooking the park for about 10 years, and like any good neighbor he prefers to keep things tidy, especially for the children who regularly come walking over to the park from the nearby Regional Multicultural Magnet School.
It’s why Haddon, with help from neighbor Joe Colaluca, have been quietly cleaning and making improvements to the park that has caught the attention of social media, park visitors and passersby. It started with regular trash and debris pickups and some cleaning up around the statue and memorials in the park. Haddon said while the city’s Public Works Department mows and removes garbage, “they don’t have the time or manpower to get fussy.” And a volunteer group he said that used to make regular visits to the park hasn’t been around in awhile.
This summer, when he had a week off from his work with his brother at Dave’s Affordable Hardwood Floors, Haddon said he spent most of his time in the park.
“The azaleas around the statue and the flower garden were out of control,” he said. “I spent a full week unearthing these gardens, trimming hedges, …edging. I never thought I’d go as far as I’ve gone.”
It progressed from there. Haddon brought in numerous chrysanthemums for the fall and added pumpkins and corn stalks around the light posts. They’ve cleaned the memorials, placed small American flags, added solar lighting and don’t litter signs.
Haddon recently exchanged the mums for dwarf alberta spruce trees and has more plans for the upcoming holidays.
Haddon recalled that at one point this summer, Colaluca loaded up his Mercedes with mulch to place in the park. Colaluca also takes care to water the plants and is out at the park early in the morning to pick up things he said children shouldn’t be exposed to, like nips or the occasional needle.
The two have noticed a change in the atmosphere at the park because of the attention.
“When something’s nice, people treat it nice. When people see s---, they add to it,” Haddon said. “I’m trying to make people aware it's a memorial park. It's meant to be respected with all of the different memorials.”
He joked that he also has selfish motives for the cleanup.
“I’m OCD and I like to have it look nice,” Haddon said, referring to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Williams Park is nestled between four different roads, Broad, Channing, Granite and Williams streets, and is part of the Williams Memorial Park Historic District. The park contains benches, a Nathan Hale statue and several monuments, including one dedicated by Jewish War Veterans and another honoring World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans.
Local resident Paul Carolan said he often walks his dog to the park and took notice of what was going on. Carolan said he even joined in on the Halloween dog costume parade Haddon organized at the park. Even when signs are pulled down or decorations go missing, Carolan said the two men haven’t given up on the effort.
“They’ve really taking ownership of the park. It sort of makes you feel good about being part of New London,” he said. `
While New London Public Works Director Brian Sear warned against people using any power tools at public parks, he said he was heartened to hear of the effort by the volunteers.
Sear said his department has its hands full maintaining the city’s various parks and green spaces, and when residents pitch in to help clean, it can only serve to inspire others to do the same.
“It sets a great example and we’re all for that,” Sear said.
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