By Maria Elena Little Endara, Banner correspondent
SHAFTSBURY — Howard Park is a hidden gem with a long-standing history. Thanks to some recent work by a number of volunteers, that gem is shining just a bit more brightly.
The story of the park on Buck Hill Road begins with a woman named Alice Millington Howard, who envisioned her farmland being preserved for recreational use for future generations to come.
"She was a woman many years ahead of her time with a quiet drive, that passion for this project," said her daughter Helen Howard.
What is now Howard Park was previously the Howard family's dairy farm. In 1982, the 65 acres were converted into a public park. Unfortunately, Alice Millington Howard died at a young age after battling cancer and never got to see it come to fruition.
"The real spearhead behind all this was my mother, who was so dedicated to seeing this happen. It is specifically deeded so that it will forever be used for recreational purposes only," Howard said.
The Howard family were some of the earliest settlers in Shaftsbury and worked in almost every sector of the town's economy. Their generosity has given them a long-lasting legacy as a family who served and loved their community.
"This is really a wonderful family that has given to the town," said volunteer Barbara Marino.
"Everything about them was for the good of the people. Everything they sought out to do was with the good of the people in mind," Howard said.
Last year, the Shaftsbury Recreation Committee purchased new playground equipment with money donated by Florence Howard, a member of the Howard family who died in 2016.
Some of the renovations were done by the NorShaft Lions Club, a humanitarian organization that volunteers in local projects to help their community. Because the group could not fundraise this year due to the pandemic, the club decided to help out by staining the pavilion.
The committee has also tried to give back to the community by using local businesses such as buying a new sign from a local Manchester sign maker.
"We felt it was great because it helped a company maybe stay afloat or at least gave them some business," said Marino.
The committee is hoping to fix their flagpole in the near future and have already appealed to state Rep. David Durfee to get a state flag that had flown over the State House in Montpelier. They also hope to fix the tennis and basketball courts.
"It's a very quiet park. People that use it love it here. It's so nice to see the park utilized the way I remember it as a kid," said Deena Ruege, the chair of the committee.
The park has become more than just an area to play and have picnics, it has also become a space to honor the lives of locals that were lost such as Rob Easton and Linda Tilgner.
Veteran Rob Easton died in 2019 at the age of 41 and was a Shaftsbury native.
"His Shaftsbury elementary school buddies wanted to do something, and this was his favorite park because they all played here when they were kids. In November, they planted this tree," said Marino.
Linda Tilgner was a teacher at the Shaftsbury Elementary School who was killed when her car collided with a moose. In her honor, the park has the Tilgner Trail which wraps around the park and features a storybook trail for small children.
"As you meander through the trail you can read the book," said Ruege.
The creation and existence of the park is a reminder of the service and altruism that continues to exist in Shaftsbury.
"It's amazing how easy this town comes together. The people in this own are all kind, looking out for one another and seeing the goodness," Howard said.