Neighbors, friends-and even a dog’s well timed howl!-applauded & heralded New Castle’s renaming a local park to honor and remember Jean Craighead George.
On Sunday, October 10, Douglas Park was renamed Jean Craighead George Park to honor and remember Ms. George, an award winning author of 105 books, naturalist, and beloved and influential member of the Chappaqua community. The ceremony was filled with neighbors, friends, and those passionate about nature and conservation. The speakers told stories, reflected on George’s life, read excerpts of her work, and shared their accomplishments and hopes for the park. The speakers included Jen Bounds, Erin Spira, Sue Meany, Ronni Diamondstein, Gray Williams, Wendell Minor, Mercy Garland, and the George children.
Jean George wrote books for young people include the Newberry Medal winner, Julie of the Wolves, Newberry Honor Book, My Side of the Mountain. and the last picture book, Crowbar: The Smartest Bird in the World, that was revised by her children Luke and Twig George and illustrated by her longtime collaborator, Wendell Minor.
When a dog howled seemingly on cue in response to Ronni Diamondstein, President of the Chappaqua Library Board of Trustees, imitating a wolf’s howl, it felt as if Jean Craighead George was there as well, and virtually everyone laughed in appreciation.
This ceremony also acknowledged the work put into the park’s restoration. Many invasive species have already been removed allowing native plants to thrive. Jen Bounds, project organizer, shared that soon after clearing the area around the stream, kids were found playing there with buckets in hand. This highlights the goal of conserving the park- to teach children to value and enjoy nature, which is what George strived to do through her writing. “This park will now serve as a memorial that enables future generations of kids to connect, enjoy, and read through a shared community,” said Erin Spira, Board of Parks and Recreation.
While at first glance, it was difficult to view this park as anything more than overgrown plants, the speakers helped to unveil the sentiment behind this special place hidden in nature. Whether it was stories of Craig George getting stuck while caving under Douglas Road, or Luke George falling off of his bike and heading straight into the stream- the audience was able to understand the value behind this park. “I think half of you grew up with us, knew mom, knew the animals, scamperd down these woods, climbed the trees probably a little too high… this was a really magical place,” said Twig George.
Diamondstein read Maggie Mae’s adorable story of meeting Jean George from a past edition of Inside Chappaqua; in 2004, George had graced the magazine cover after an interview with Lisa St. John.
Gray Williams, Chappaqua’s town historian, also reminisced about times he spent at the park and his hope that it “can be restored to the way it was when [he] was growing up.” With all of the progress the park has made, hopefully children in the neighborhood can escape to this wild space the same way Gray Williams and the George children used to do, and the same way Jean Craighead George encouraged through her writing.
Ms. George passed away in 2012, but it is clear that her influence on the community as well as on future generations of children lives on. Jen Bounds shared that after reaching out to Ms. George’s children to garner support for the park dedication to present to the Recreation and Parks Commission, approximately 200 emails and letters appeared seemingly overnight.
Craig George spoke about how he had the honor of “being raised by the most interesting mom in America, in one of the most interesting houses… It was an open house, and a lot of people here I think were touched by that place.” This house can be seen from the park, and Twig said that they raised 173 wild animals there. Considering George’s love for wildlife and value of community, this park is the perfect tribute to her life. In fact, even at this one hour ceremony, a strong sense of connectedness was already felt. “Jean taught generations of children to value and conserve the wild spaces that are entrusted to us,” said Jen Bounds. “For that we dedicate this park as Jean Craighead George Park.”
PHOTOS BY Grace Bennett/Inside Press