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RE-CREATING A CITY SPACE
A VOLUNTEER'S EFFORTS TO RENOVATE SHOSHONE PARK

Amid the lingering cold weather, Lucinda Ingalls of North Buffalo is dreaming of summer -- for more reasons than those 70-degree mornings.

That's when her master plan for Shoshone Park nears completion of its third and perhaps final phase.

"It's as gorgeous in the winter and spring as it is in the summer. In fact, summer's coming up too quickly. There's so much to do," she said.

This summer, the Shoshone Park Enrichment Program teams up with the Police Athletic League. Swim instruction will be improved, and children will be taking field trips.

"When people give back to the community, it makes my heart sing," Ingalls said, ticking off other projects: "We'll finish up a splash pad near the pool -- where small kids who can't go into the pool and others can cool off with spray. We'll be landscaping along the fence, putting in perennial plants."

Call this "A Tree Grows in Shoshone."

Before Ingalls rolled up her sleeves, Shoshone had fallen into disrepair. Now the 17-acre park near Main Street offers a virtual culture fest for children as they learn to swim, make kites, fish, cook, study bugs and play soccer.

As Ingalls explains, "The genesis of the Shoshone Park Enrichment Program was a response to the notion that the park was perceived as increasingly unsafe."

An old concession stand provided a visual barrier for teens to drink and drug behind and vandalize the antiquated playground. Young moms and care providers were reluctant to venture into the park, fearing crime, isolation and debris.

Instead of carrying a big billy club -- "using the same amount of money that would have provided virtually four hours of security-force protection, 50 classes were taught to over 300 children during the first summer," in 1997, Ingalls recalled. Neighbors volunteered their time, supporting the idea that everyone has something to teach a child.

"I didn't do it by myself. Hundreds of people did serious work. To me, it wasn't a hopeless endeavor," she said. "People continue to tirelessly give their time.

"It's tough for me to hear, 'Let somebody else to do it.' We are the city, and we have to take responsibility. If someone complains about trash in the park, I'll say, 'Pick it up.' "

Today, more than 3,000 children have benefited from the program. With nearly 200 volunteers joining forces with the city, county, state and tens of thousands of private dollars raised, Ingalls said, "Shoshone Park is no longer a scary place."

The volunteer with a sledgehammer took the first swing at that dilapidated concession stand.

"It was a fabulous feeling, better than giving birth," she said with a laugh. The rest of the demolition work, estimated at about $16,000, was donated by Lamparelli Construction Co. Modern Disposal hauled away the building debris free of charge.

The more-than-$250,000 renovation of Shoshone Park also included creating a new playground and remodeling the pool building. Phase 1 of the master plan, funded by the city, also included a tricycle path, new signs and an ornamental fence near the Hertel Avenue entrance. Funding was sought for construction of parking along Hertel Avenue, an amphitheater, two patios, a performance stage, a couple of picnic shelters and new landscaping, with benches and kiosks.

Ingalls said her mission all along was to be "with your neighbors, and having your own space and wanting it to be the best it could be. We wanted to fill the park up with as many people we could."

Her advice to other citizen activists looking at fields of broken glass: "Don't be bogged down by negativity. Ask, 'Why not?' "

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com.

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