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Caretaking days over for Azalea Park group

After 20 years of tending the rhododendrons and azaleas in the “formal” gardens of Azalea Park, the foundation in charge is calling it quits.

The Brookings City Council will discuss the ramifications of the organization’s disincorporation at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

“It’s been 20 years,” said Azalea Park Foundation (APF) President Shirley Hyatt. 

“My friends and I have worked in the gardens for years, and I’ve gotten to the point that when I do the work I enjoy, I get sick. I can’t do it anymore,” she said.

It’s difficult, too, to attract volunteers and train them to the specifics of pruning and clearing of the flowers, some of which are natives dating back to the early 1800s.

“I love it; I really care about the park,” Hyatt said. “But I think it’s just time to step aside.”

Over the past two decades, the foundation has solicited grants and worked in the city-owned park at no cost to taxpayers. It has put in more than $350,000 worth of new plantings, benches, pathways and statuary.

“They believed in the cause and got it going,” Hyatt said of her predecessors. “I feel so strongly that it’s such a beautiful asset; it needs to be treated as such.”

The city will discuss how it plans to continue the work the foundation started. It is likely the council will opt to use some of the $10,000 the foundation is bequeathing to the city to maintain the gardens to hire someone.

The city, however, doesn’t have enough personnel to assume the job at the same level as the APF has done throughout the years, and will likely have to contract for the work, said City Manager Gary Milliman.

“I don’t think understaffing is any excuse,” Hyatt said. “You have priorities; you need to look at them. They spent all this time and energy at the skateboard park, all this time and energy at Mill Beach. This is the major thing people come to town to see. People say, ‘We found you in National Geographic,’ or, ‘We came to see the native azaleas.’ I want the community to (realize) this is a valuable resource for us.”

She is also concerned that, without a daily presence in the park, the flowers might not be protected. The natives are difficult enough to maintain without dogs and skateboarders playing among them, she said.

“I’m concerned that, for years, there have been no active work parties to train people how to prune them,” Hyatt said, adding that she might create a pamphlet instructing future gardeners how to do it correctly. “We learned the hard way; there is a way to do it.”

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