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Hastings-on-Hudson contractor cleans up neighborhood park
Superstorm Sandy left an overabundance of felled trees. Tim Downey of Hastings-on-Hudson soon came up with an enchanting second life for them.
He is a landscape contractor who has turned unkempt Dan Rile Memorial Park into a whimsical space filled with rustic log benches, wood-chipped trails and even a stump table-and-chairs set fit for a royal gathering of elves.
Tim made everything from Sandy’s fallen trees.
Of course, I didn’t know that, or even who he was – until just recently.
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Until Tim’s makeover project, this park along Branford Road was a scruffy 1.5-acre patch of trees, litter and rocks. My little dog Rosebud and I walked past it every day without stopping. The Oct. 29 storm left the park even more of a mess with trees toppled onto power lines.
Eventually, the cables were taken care of and the worst of the debris was cleared by the village. But then, unexpected changes appeared from week to week.
Piles of brush and debris were neatly stacked curbside for removal. Logs and heavy branches were used to edge the trails, making the paths finally visible. Soon, the benches appeared.
This was getting interesting.
One Sunday morning in early December, a trailer hauling equipment had pulled up to the park. There was a payloader, a mini-excavator, a John Deere backhoe. That’s when I met Tim and heard his story.
He and his wife Ellen live down the block with their two daughters Katilyn, 12, and Alexis, 14. In 2007, they adopted their first dog, a big mutt named Penny and started taking her to the park.
“But it wasn’t a pleasant place,” Tim recalled.
In 2010, they rescued Patches, a pit bull. With two dogs, they found themselves in the park more, although Tim didn’t like the dangerous rocks and the shabby trails. So he had a talk with village manager Fran Frobel to hatch a plan. In December 2011, Tim, with the help of some neighborhood pals, completed a first round of cleanup.
Then when Sandy tore through, there was suddenly plenty of wood for building things. Working a bunch of Sunday afternoons, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, he helped turn the park into a magic space.
“We made something good out of something that was so destructive,” he said with satisfaction.
The tree stump table is red oak. Two of the log benches are made from Kentucky coffee trees that fell on a neighbor’s property. “I didn’t realize how beautiful the wood was until I put a saw into it,” Tim said.
In marshy areas, there is now gravel and crushed stone under the trails to shore up spongy ground. In the spring, the 600 daffodils that he planted with one of his daughters will delight us all. For now, there are other personal touches like the birdhouse, and white stepping stones salvaged from an old landscaping job.
Tim did all the work for free. In fact, it was pulling teeth on my part to get a cost estimate from him. Man-hours for himself and his crew, fuel for the machine, flower bulbs, the gravel….oh, maybe $4,000, he guessed.
It’s not about the money, according to Tim. This was about “power to the people,” he explained. “You’ve got to just walk the talk.”
These days, Rosebud and I really enjoy wandering through the park, which is named for Hastings scoutmaster Dan Rile, who died in 1991. We might be hanging out in other Hastings green spaces soon.
“I’m already looking for other parks to clean up,” Tim said. Uniontown and Hillside Woods are on his radar. And by the way, he is also eyeing able-bodied neighbors like me.
“I’d like to do Hillside while the college kids are home,” he said. “And people are so fat from eating at Thanksgiving, they might want to help.”
No problem. Rosebud and I are ready.