Hudson animal park has history worth rememberingBy APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent October 21. 2013 9:41PM
HUDSON — It's been several decades since elephants roamed the grounds of Benson Park, the former site of Benson's Wild Animal Park. But those who have long called Hudson home cherish memories of the park's colorful history.
Many of the zoo's old buildings remain, and members of the Friends of Benson Park are in the process of fully renovating a former elephant barn for use as the future home of the Benson's Wild Animal Park Museum.
In early 2012, an anonymous donor contributed $138,000 to the Friends, officially kicking off the project's fundraising efforts.
John Leone, a member of the Friends' building committee, said that as of right now the group is still "pretty far away" from its $500,000 fundraising goal.
"As you can see, this building still needs quite a bit of work," Leone said, motioning to the plastic tarp hanging from the barn's ceiling.
"We have no insulation, no heat and no water right now, so we're pretty much starting from scratch here," he added.
Last year the Friends purchased an extensive collection of park memorabilia that once belonged to the zoo's one-time owner, Arthur Provencher.The collection, which includes vintage photographs, signs and circus wagons, was last displayed inside Hudson's library in 2009.
Leone said the group has raised enough money to repair the barn's collapsed roof, remove decades of graffiti from the structure's interior and add fresh coats of paint, though much work remains.
The project is being paid for entirely by the Friends' fundraising efforts and no taxpayer money will go toward the project, he added.
Harry Schibanoff, chairman of the Benson Park Committee, said monthly park cleanup days have been successful because of the efforts of rake-wielding citizens.
The cleanups usually take place on the second Saturday each month.
"People have been so willing to help," Schibanoff said. "They're raking up branches, they're blowing away leaves."
Last Saturday, a handful of local Cub Scouts were on hand weeding the park's butterfly garden, while other volunteers were installing some recently donated benches throughout the park.
"For a long time this park was Hudson's best kept secret, but word is spreading," Schibanoff added. "We're seeing more visitors coming in from other towns. Some of them are even signing up to volunteer."
The Friends of Benson Park gift shop is open weekends and holidays, weather permitting, from noon to 4 p.m.
A fundraising craft fair is also being planned for Dec. 7. The fair will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hudson Memorial Middle School.
For more information on the fundraising progress or volunteer opportunities, visit www.friendsofbensonpark.org or the Friends' Facebook page.