The Dorchester Park Association is planning a weekend of outdoor events this weekend to showcase the now 120-year-old green space and raise funds for many consider to be one of the neighborhood’s greatest assets.
The celebrations begins Friday, Sept. 23 with the Dot Park5 Gala  and will feature live music and food under a tent in the park, followed by a pancake dinner the next morning. There will also be a Saturday night performance by the Dorchester Symphony Orchestra and a free antique car show scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
The DPA, a group of about 20 longtime park users who care for the local flora and organize five park cleanups throughout the year, often pays for projects out of their own pockets to supplement the maintenance and programming of the city-owned park. Organizers say the proceeds from the weekend’s events will go towards an endowment they will use to preserve the park for future generations, as well as ensure neighbors take advantage of the 26-acre park.
“It’s amazing how many people live in the city and have no idea about this incredible park,” said Richard O’Mara, owner of Cedar Grove Gardens and one of the key organizers of the gala events. “All of our larger events are intended to increase the awareness of the park within the community. We want to bring in a diverse group of people and show them all the park has to offer.”
O’Mara said volunteers have spent considerable amounts of time removing invasive species and trash from the park’s “urban forest” areas and continue their efforts to restore plant and small animal life to conditions last seen in 1891, when Central Park designer Fredrick Law Olmstead completed Dorchester Park’s initial design.
While cleanup work continues, DPA president Jane Boyer says the park has come a long way since the 1980s, when park-goers were just as likely to come across a burned out car as they were a park bench. That poor reputation has been replaced thanks to three decades of work by Boyer and other park advocates. Now she is looking to the future and hopes to arrange guided tours for school children, where arborists can identify different species of trees and learn how to best protect their park.
“Our goal for the kids is that if you get them young like that, get them energized, when they get back to their communities after school, they’ll want to give back,” Boyer said. “We want people to have a sense that it’s their park, that if they see a piece of trash, they’ll pick it up.”
The DPA’s work has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the city. City of Boston Parks commissioner Toni Pollak commended the volunteer efforts that help her agency keep Dorchester Park in the top echelon of city-owned public spaces.
“They have put in countless hours mulching, fertilizing, and planting flowers, removing debris and trash from the park, eliminating graffiti, and hosting year-round events,” said Pollak. “The Association is always willing to do more. Mayor Menino has often commented that the Association is a shining example of a civic group which has been tireless in making a neighborhood park a beautiful and welcoming space for everyone.”
Boyer said beyond education, the DPA hopes to use it’s growing endowment to improve the infrastructure of the park and are currently reviewing plans to install a pump to make watering young trees easier. Currently, Boyer and other volunteers must drive in barrels of water from their homes to keep the park green.
Although the DPA puts considerable effort into Dorchester Park, Boyer was quick to name residents who have gone above and beyond, including Cedar Grove Little League coach Mike Mackan, who along with other coaches, spent 48 hours pumping water out of the baseball diamond during heavy rains in preparation for games held on Mother’s Day weekend.
“You just don’t see dedication like that in every community, people really see this as their park” Boyer said.
Tickets are required for several of the Dorchester Park Gala Weekend events and can be purchased online at dotpark.org . A weekend pass is available for $200. Tickets to the DotPark pancake breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 24 are the most affordable at $10 per person or $30 per family.
A Brief History of Dorchester Park
•June 26, 1891: The city of Boston took 26 acres in Dorchester Lower Mills area after receiving a petition of the Lower Mills Improvement Association. The Lower Mills community was growing rapidly with the coming of the street cars. A high concentration of residents lived around Lower Mills because of the large chocolate and paper mills along the Neponset River. The community felt it was their last opportunity to purchase land for a park.
•The property of the Whitney and Badlam heirs was suggested because of its central location in Lower Mills and because of its natural growth of magnificent trees, none of it stump growth, but all first growth.
•A topographical map made in 1894 shows many oak, cherry, pine, cedar, spruces and walnut trees. There were a few maples, birches and Balmgileahs. Today there are oaks, cherries and birches but none of the others.
•The Olmsted firm did a preliminary proposal which included the train yard and Convalescents’ Home.
•In 1894, two water closets were built at a cost of $774. Water pipes were laid in 1898 to a shelter which was built some time before at a cost of $963.
•In 1900, seam-faced granite stone walls were built along Dorchester Avenue and Adams Street at a cost of $3,500.
• In 1968, Carney Hospital bought 4.2 acres for $30,000 which was converted into a parking lot.
• In 1987, a group of neighbors founded the Dorchester Park Association.
•1991: Renovations focused on Dorchester Avenue part of the park included new plantings and a ramp for wheel chair access was built.
•2008 — Dorchester Park is added to the National Register of Historic Places.