MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The first phase of the Maplewood Memorial Park Conservancy’s improvement project was unveiled Nov. 17 with the ribbon cutting of Flagpole Hill, unveiling new landscaping in the park across the street from the Maplewood Train Station. The new landscaping was designed by Jennifer Ryan, an intern in the conservancy’s summer program this year who recently finished graduate school with a master’s degree in landscape design. The hill is the first step in the organization’s plan to revamp the park and bring it back to the days of the Olmsted brothers, who designed the park in the in 1920s.
“Jennifer Ryan took on the task of designing Flagpole Hill across from the train station,” Virginia Kurshan, a member of the MMPC board of directors, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Nov. 16. “We found the old plan by the Olmsted brothers and adapted it for current designing.”
The landscaping was updated with plants native to New Jersey that would enhance the flagpole, the namesake of the site. Kurshan said the timing of the reveal intentionally coincided with Veterans Day, as the park was dedicated in 1931 to the men and women who served their country in World War I and planted eight elm trees to commemorate the eight Maplewood servicemen who died in the war.
“We took that original plan and updated it to deal with the changing climate conditions,” Kurshan said. “It’s a local landmark and a national landmark, so we want to update it but also have it match the plans of the past.”
The park is a state-registered historic landmark and the MMPC has been in Maplewood since 2014, working with the Maplewood Department of Public Works to clean and conserve the park that takes up 25 acres near the center of town.
In addition to the new plants that are now at Flagpole Hill, Kurshan said that a water source was also added to the site.
“We were able to get a water source there,” she said. “There was never any way to water in that area. We’re putting in native plants to New Jersey so they’ll be easier to maintain and continue to grow. The area was heavily planted originally; we have photos of it crowded with shrubs and trees. But then there were only a few stumps and shrubs because the conditions change. Now it looks a lot better than it did.”
In an interview with the News-Record on Nov. 16, Ryan said that she wanted the design of Flagpole Hill to resemble what it looked like in the 1920s when the Olmsted brothers broke ground on the park. She chose what plants to use based on the current environment.
“I chose things based on their toughness — so plants that are tolerant of urban areas,” she said. “I wanted to use things that would attract pollinators and were native to the area. Hopefully it will attract wildlife as well.”
One of the plants that Ryan incorporated into the landscape design is low-creeping blueberry bushes.
“I don’t know if anyone will be able to pick and eat those, but they’ll probably get some birds in the area,” she said. “And there’s some other flowers as well. We also wanted to protect some of the larger trees in the area, so it’s definitely an aesthetic improvement.”
Photos Courtesy of MMPC