The writer is a horticultural educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Albany County.
The Village of Altamont is a square mile of quaintness and charm, but scratch the surface and you will find beautifully preserved homes rich with local history, walkable streets with gorgeous plantings and citizens who love their village and volunteer their time to keep it pristine. You will also find several parks; Benjamin Crupe Bozenkill Park, Orsini Park, Angel Park and Schilling Park. There are also many small gardens throughout the Village that dazzle the eye when driving by. It is obvious that the citizens of Altamont value green space. Each of these parks has a special focus but it is the newest park, Schilling Park on Maple Avenue, that captivates the visitor on several levels.
The property at 149 Maple Avenue has been many things since the late 1800s — a root beer processing plant for many years, a private residence, public tennis courts and vacant land. In May of 2003, the Village Board voted to keep the property “forever green” and the task of deciding how that could be integrated with village life was begun.
Through input from residents it was decided that a park was the vehicle and plans were underway. In 2005, a wrought iron arch was installed at the entranceway and plantings were established under the direction of longtime resident and volunteer gardener Keith Lee. Keith and Village Mayor James Gaughan took on the challenge of guiding the development of the park by finding creative ways to reuse materials and garner donations of plant materials and mulch.
Since 2005, the volunteer effort in the park has transformed it into a multi-use green space that gets a lot of use. It showcases what a few volunteers can do to truly make a difference in the quality of life for community residents.
Schilling Park was formally named in 2010 in honor of the Schilling family who had contributed to the village over decades. Phyllis Schilling had championed plantings around the Village as well as numerous other civic adventures. Her son Carl donated his labor for the construction of a shelter modeled after the train station in the village that occupies the middle area of the park. Carl crafted benches for seating in case of a sudden shower. Fundraising efforts supported the construction of the children’s butterfly garden and tot-lot play area for pre-school age tykes.
Recycled bluestone sidewalks lead visitors into the park and past glorious perennial beds adorned with unusual trees such as Pagoda Dogwood, Paperbark Maple, Burr Oak and Sweet Gum. The back area is a large open space suitable for running with wild abandon or just meandering slowly past the many perennial beds and naturalized areas. It is simply wonderful!
On a recent visit to the park I was delighted to find a new addition just to the left of the main path: a labyrinth. Common to gardens and public parks around the world, the labyrinth has its roots in Greek mythology but can also be found replicated in floor tiles of cathedrals.
Often confused with the maze, a labyrinth differs in that it has one path to the center and back, and it is not meant to confuse or trap but rather to offer a quiet journey of reflection. The scale is ample for walking the path that winds inward and outward to the center with stones from the nearby Bozenkill Creek lining the pathway incorporating native materials into the circular and spiral designs.
On this day there were several children in the park helping their parents with mulching the large beds as part of the village-wide volunteer clean up day. With the mulch spread, it was time to explore the labyrinth and as I took pictures, I heard one of the kids say, “this is so cool!”
Schilling Park is a hidden jewel, a local destination to view great gardens, entertain the small fry or to relax in an outdoor oasis of quiet inspiration.