Garden club works to get Battel Park rock garden a much needed face lift

There is a real gem in our community that some don't even know exists.

It's the rock garden at Battel Park, built in 1930's by the WPA, Works Progress Administration. It's now 80 years old, and like all 80 year olds it needs some tender loving care. But there is good news. The Mishawaka Garden Club is here to help.

The Mishawaka Garden Club was formed in 1941. It's a group made up of more than 40 members, constantly learning new things about gardens, then giving information to others,

But that's not all this group is constantly raising money through fundraisers and giving it back to South Bend and Mishawaka.

But the group’s current focus is the rock garden in Battell Park.

“A lot of people use this park and there are many weddings that take place here during the year and in the summers there are concerts here, it is a wonderful gathering place for people to come,” says Wyett Mick the former president of the Mishawaka Garden Club.

“Our secretary of our Mishawaka Garden Club was actually married on the bridge that's farther up, and she said she came here as a little girl and said remembers saying someday I am going to get married here and she did,” says Ann Lesar the president of the Mishawaka Garden Club.

But through the years this 80 something year old garden has started to fall apart. And that's where the Mishawaka Garden Club comes in.

“All of the other Mishawaka parks are so well taken care of and we saw this one that was on the National Register of Historic Places that it wasn't,” explains Ann. “You know, we saw bikes in the pond and some of the vandalism that had occurred and some of the things that just occurred with the natural wear and tear on a park.”

“They are a great partner,” says Terry Zeller the superintendent of Mishawaka Parks and Recreation. “Other than fundraising they actually just bring the people out. They are a great group of volunteers, I know there are more than 30 members of the Mishawaka Garden Club, they have a good direction every year, they've got a strong organization and they try to do the best with their volunteer efforts for the city to try to beautify the city.”

“This past year we were able to present the mayor with a check, Mayor Wood, for $500, and then one of the local churches in South Bend asked me to speak to them on Earth Day about the rock garden and we collected almost $250 from their church members towards the restoration project,” explains Ann.

But, getting this garden back to its original state is going to cost a lot more than $700.

“First of all, safety wise they need to restore the steps,” says Ann. “You know, I think quit a few of the areas on the steps coming down are crumbing and that's just concrete. You know our Michiana winters are pretty harsh on the outdoor elements so, and then behind me there is a wall here with trees and you can tell that the dirt is beginning to shift and that wall is shifting. So, it would be major. I mean if they did something, I imagine the park would need to be closed for at least one summer while they concentrated on this.”

Even with those imperfections, the rock garden continues to attract people to the park from across the country and all-around Indiana.

For example, the Nappanee Home and Garden Club came to Mishawaka in June to see something many have never seen before.

“I have never seen anything so beautiful,” says Sandy Toney the former co-chairman of the Nappanee Home and Garden Club. “There were five of us that came the other night and every one of them was just shocked that something so beautiful was just right in our backyard and we didn't know anything about it.”

And its reactions like that that makes it crucial for the city, garden club and community to raise money to save this landmark.

“I know government is been cutting back on help because the funding is short and I don't think we need to rely specifically on the park department, you know, to take care of this,” says Sandy. “I think the community needs to come together and bring this back to, as much as they can, to the original garden.”

“It's wonderful, it needs to be restored and I think there needs to be some way of getting more people down here to see it and to see, you know, what a wonderful park it is,” says Ann.

The Mishawaka Parks and Recreation superintendent says they do regular work on the park. That includes mowing, minor repairs and spring cleaning. But he says the rock garden is mostly left alone, but he says there are plans to try to change that. As many of us know, if you leave something like a garden alone, it will only continue to decay.

Coming up Wednesday, it’s not just the Garden Club working to restore the rock garden. We'll hear from the Parks and Rec superintendent about the plans, and how you can help save parts of Mishawaka history.

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