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  • Correspondent photo by Bruce Preston

    Benson Park Committee member James Barnes, right, gives a tour of the park to Peter Lindsay of Merrimack on Saturday morning. The two are standing in front of the elephant barn building. Lindsay worked at the food concessions and at the rides during the 1970’s, and came back to tour the park.

  • Correspondent photo by Bruce Preston

    Benson Park Committee member James Barnes, right, gives a tour of the park to Peter Lindsay of Merrimack on Saturday morning. The two are standing in front of the old lady in the shoe exhibit. Lindsay worked at the food concessions and at the rides during the 1970’s, and came back to tour the park.

  • Correspondent photo by Bruce Preston

    Benson Park volunteer Paula Wyka, gives a tour of the park to the Dupont family of Pelham, from left, Christine, Philip, 13 and Mark. The group is standing in front of the gorilla house. Mark said that his family would visit the park every year while he was growing up.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Benson’s Park soft opening brings back fond memories

HUDSON – For many of the people who braved the rain to attend the first day of the Benson’s Park soft opening, the walk through the trails was also a stroll down memory lane.

For many who attended, this was their first time back to the site of Benson’s Animal Park, the venerable landmark that first opened to the public in 1924. The park housed an array of animals, such as elephants, tigers and Colossus the 500-pound gorilla.

“Some of the buildings are run down, but seeing them brings back memories,” said Joseph Shields, of Plaistow, who came to the event with his wife, Kimberly.

The The Benson Park Committee and Hudson Board of Selectmen are putting on the soft opening, which will also from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today.

The event is being used to show off the work of volunteers who are helping refurbish the 168-acre park and also to get more people to sign up to help achieve the goal of opening the refurbished area in the spring.

“Many volunteers have given countless hours to clean, rake, weed, paint, but there is a lot of work to be completed before Benson Park opens permanently,” said a press release issued by the Benson Park Committee.

Inside what was the elephant barn, organizers have set up a display that shows photos and sketches of the Benson Park Project, which is in charge of the park upgrades. One of the main features that’s being showcased during this weekend’s open house is the park’s dog-walking trail.

The trail will be one of the centerpieces of the new park and takes travelers past the old gorilla house and A-frame building.

“There aren’t may large parks like this around here that are pet friendly like this will be,” Shields said. “I think it’s going to be a really nice place to take your dog.”

The land had been owned by the state Department of Transportation since 1992 until January, when the town purchased it for $188,000. Although the town bought the land at a significant discount from the $4 million the state paid 17 years ago, many stipulations have been placed on the project, including strict limits on what types of structures can be built on the property.

When complete, Benson Park will include a museum, educational center, soccer fields, picnic areas and multiple trails that will be used for hiking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

The project is projected to cost upward of $5 million, with much of that money going to improving the existing infrastructure.

For the many people, such as Shields, who enjoyed Benson’s Wild Animal Park when they were children, the transformation of this land has been a long time coming.

“It won’t be the same as getting to see elephants and tigers, but this park will be a great way to utilize a beautiful area and improve the community,” Shields said.

Ryan Leach can be reached at 594-6523 or rleach@nashuatelegraph.com.