October 24, 2018

Children’s Arboretum Proposed By Marquand Park Foundation

A PROPOSAL FOR THE PARK: Stewards of Princeton’s Marquand Park hope to attract more young people ages 3-13 with a special arboretum. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

By Anne Levin

Since Marquand Park was created 65 years ago on a 17-acre expanse of land given to Princeton, children have been considered among its most important patrons. Generations have patronized the park’s well known sandbox, baseball field, and playground, taken part in tree tours and scavenger hunts, and made use of the cozy children’s book exchange designed with them in mind.

A proposal to make the park on Lover’s Lane even more child-friendly went before Princeton Council Monday night, October 22. The Marquand Park Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the town in the upkeep of the park, hopes to put a Children’s Arboretum, geared to ages 3 to 13, on a small plot next to the parking lot. The Foundation would build, maintain, and be responsible for the project.

Council members were encouraging about the proposal, which needs the proper permits before work can begin. The plan was presented by Wellmoet Van Damnen, one of four members of the Foundation’s board of trustees. “We want to make younger kids more responsible and more interested in the trees,” she said. “We want to make kids more aware of how trees are planted and how they grow,  so when they grow up, they will see trees more as an asset than a nuisance to their properties.”

The project would start small, and community members would be involved from the beginning. Input is invited, in fact, at a public meeting being held Thursday,  November 1 at 6 p.m. at the Historical Society of Princeton’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road.

Part of the plan is to hold two events a year: one on Arbor Day, when children can plant trees in pots and then return to water them during the summer months; the other in the fall when they can decide whether to plant them in the park or at their homes.

“The idea is to have another way to engage children and add an educational component to our programming,” board member Rebecca Flemer said on Tuesday. “Everything we’ve done in the past few years along those lines has been very successful. So we thought it would be good to have an ongoing project, and a place where children can return and get to know the park.”

Marquand Park is considered a well-preserved example of a 19th century landscaped garden. Philadelphia architect John Notman was commissioned by Richard Stockton Field, who owned the Woodlawn estate that stood on the site, to design a landscaped garden and later a mansion for the property. The garden was developed first, in 1846. Princeton University art history professor Alan Marquand bought the estate in 1887, and it remained in his family until 1953, when the 17-acre parcel was given to the town “for use as a public park, playground, and recreational area for the benefit of the people of Princeton and its environments.”

According to the Foundation’s website, a wooded area along Mercer Street has remained relatively untouched since the garden was created, and is still the home of some of the park’s oldest trees — many 200 years old or older.

According to Flemer, the Marquand Park Foundation is a Category 1 Arboretum, registered with the Morton Arboretum in Chicago. A landscape historian, Flemer is especially aware of the park’s value. “I see this little pocket of a historic landscape with 20-something trees left from the 1840s,” she said. “It also provides space in town that is accessible to everybody. I like seeing people biking through, strolling casually on Sundays, and, especially, children. So there are all kinds of uses, passive and active.”

People usually become acquainted with the park when their children are toddlers and they bring them to the sandbox. “That’s the tradition we are continuing,” Flemer said, “engaging children in messy play.”