Abraxas students help Marienville garden come to fruition

Earlier this year, Marienville Park barely resembled a park at all. Four months later, the same area boasts whimsical artwork, a game area, a terraced section and a pond.

The transformation — resulting in the Marienville Area Community Garden — was largely the work of students from Abraxas in Marienville, with help from Jenks Township and the Marienville community. Abraxas operates community-based and residential programming for at-risk youths, adults and families in five states.

The grand opening of the garden, located next to the Marienville Library, is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“The first month and half was brutal work,” Abraxas Workforce Development Supervisor David Fitch said. “They dug the whole area out by hand and had to pull roots and stumps.”

He said the garden project was developed in cooperation with Deb Arner at East Forest High School, librarian Jackie McLaughlin, and Hillary Hubble and Jessica Johnson, of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).

“We have always done things with the community, but this was a special summer project that OVR developed for eligible students,” Fitch said. “It is a paid work experience.”

He said Abraxas students pulled weeds, built arbors, sank the pond and even helped erect a split-rail fence.

“The new library is next door and I wanted to bring the library into the garden,” Fitch said, and that led to the erection of a book box in the garden.

Fitch also wanted to incorporate the old railroad into the garden, and the old ties were used on the terrace in the park. The students drug the ties out of the woods from the original rail bed.

“That area was where the rail yard was,” he said.

That tie-in, Fitch said, led to a rail-crossing sign, the relocated original railroad ticket booth and a small water tower being placed at the site. The water tower will be functional, allowing people to draw water for the plants in the garden more easily.

Construction supervisor Tom McClusky, an Abraxas employee, said a small windmill next to the water tank to generate electricity might be used.

“That could power the water pump,” he said.

Natural power also is being used at the fish pond. A small solar panel powers the fountain in the pond.

“On sunny days, it will really shoot up,” McClusky said.

Fitch called the garden “a peaceful place for people to go and read. The kids in the summer reading program can use it.”

Abraxas artist Erica Long’s work is evident throughout the park.

“She helped the kids paint the picket fence and the brick books,” Fitch said. “Tom has been down at the park every day and Erica 80% of the time.”

The township offered to put in the split-rail fence, which “the kids and the township worked on for three days last week,” Fitch said.

“The kids have learned some soft skills like teamwork and communication, work ethics and how to work in all kinds of weather conditions,” he said. “The kids helped survey the site and learned some skills such as carpentry, gardening and cement work.”

About 24 students, working four-hour shifts, have been involved in the project and have invested 3,000 hours in the project. About a dozen Abraxas staff members helped the students.

“We have had some townspeople show up. One man came with his backhoe and another one donated 40 bags of cement,” Fitch said. “The township has helped with mulch as well as the fencing. Our staff members have also donated items for the park.

“It has been a great project in many ways. I think originally they just wanted us to come down and clear the weeds. Once we started talking about things, ‘we could do it’ kind of morphed into something else.”

Fitch said the park project could be a multiple-year effort.

“We are looking at putting in a playground for the small kids,” he said. “There are some other things we are talking about.”