City, volunteers developing plan to safeguard park’s azaleas

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer August 08, 2012 12:40 pm

Blooming azaleas can be found at Brookings’ Azalea Park, above, in late spring and early summer. The Pilot/Stormy Lake
Blooming azaleas can be found at Brookings’ Azalea Park, above, in late spring and early summer. The Pilot/Stormy Lake
The aromatic azaleas that bloom every June in Azalea Park face a threat not seen in the long history of their species.

The flowers have delicate, shallow roots, and can be easily killed if a sidewalk is laid near them, heavy equipment compresses the soil, they are overdosed on commercial fertilizer or improperly pruned – all of which city workers have inadvertently done throughout the years. 

But it’s nothing that can’t be fixed fairly easily, said Shirley Hyatt, president of the Azalea Park Foundation. That volunteer group – now down to four people – has taken care of the azaleas on 3.5 acres of land in the park at the south end of town since the state gave it to the city in 1992 and the volunteers took over shortly thereafter.

City councilors at a work session Monday agreed to draft a new document that better details the park and its plants so park volunteers and city employees know who is responsible for what.

Over the years, Hyatt said, well-intentioned city park workers have threatened not only the work the volunteers have done, but continue to do so due to their lack of knowledge of the ancient flowers.

“Seventeen years later, it’s a huge park,” Hyatt said. “It’s a different exercise than when Elmo (Williams) would go out in the garden and everyone who loved Elmo came out to help.”

“I’ve been visiting the Azalea Park for 12 years, and the azaleas are there, and they’re beautiful,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “They’ve got a problem? That’s news to me.”

Small changes to save the flowers – even if a few have to be lost for the benefit for the majority – can be accomplished with a bit of education, Hyatt said.

“The azaleas are why people come to Brookings,” she said. “People come from all over the world to walk through the park. They are such an important part of Brookings.”