, Newburyport, MA

September 6, 2013

Cheering on work to restore Frog Pond

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Given the complexities of the times and the extent to which each of us may be engaged in our own quests, awareness of those of others can be lacking.

As readers of this column may be aware, I share interest with those trying to resolve issues relating to the condition of Newburyport’s Bartlet Mall.

It has environmental and usage problems, and committee meetings are of particular interest. It is comforting to find them to be wisely led and constructively focused on what needs be done.

Problems are being addressed by a number of dedicated citizens led by Walt Thompson. I have come to know and appreciate his devotion as a constructive leader of those who are equally sprightly and committed.

That has become increasingly essential because the environmental complexities involved in this restoration are more complex than those of 25 years ago.

On the bright side, the fountain won’t have to be removed as was the case at that time.

All we had to do back then was raise the restoration money, drain the pond, build a bridge to get to the fountain, remove it, rebuild the original base in its absence and, upon the fountain’s return, set it back in place where it gleamed especially in floodlights that made for a spectacular setting on warm summer evenings.

There has been progress on restoring some of that, but more is to follow.

As for the pond itself? It’s a money-raising challenge because pond chemistry has to be changed if ever it is to truly be Frog Pond once more.

Why bother?

Environmentally speaking, this is the largest pond of its kind in Newburyport.

As for historic importance, it is major evidence of the character of those who took what nature had roughly provided and made it a work of great beauty that serves as testimony to the city’s pride.

I have no memory of there having been serious environmental concerns a quarter of a century ago save for the presence of fallen leaves. Freddy Frog was our spiritual leader, and we had no worries for his kind’s future.

Shame on us. We should have had them.

Some years after the restoration, the swans atop the fountain acquired an unfortunate brown coating as a result of their continuous showers of murky pond water.

Frogs did remain, however, and there is no record of which I’m aware of just when the last frog died.

The several considerations of the Mall’s environmental concerns have changed over time.

The first half of my life was lived through the Great Depression, during which the Mall played something of the role of the city’s beauty that the Newburyport waterfront plays today.

I don’t recall that the word “environment” was in much use. The city took care of its properties on the basis of need as needs were then defined.

The downtown riverfront was commercial from one end to the other.

The Mall was a strolling place, especially on weekends.

During the week, Newburyport High School track teams ran along its paths.

Easter Sunday parading was not uncommon. Our annual opening Sundays of Yankee Homecomings on the Mall link us to that time.

It is not surprising that there are those who believe that the pond environment would be improved by permitting banking grasses to grow uncut. Nor am I surprised that there are those who want it cut as usual.

Water, or course, runs downhill and carries whatever’s in the grass with it. Long grass serves as a kindly sieve.

Nor is it surprising that benches have to be cared for on a regular basis, dog walkers really should remove droppings, and feeding visiting air travelers is not to be encouraged.

I was not surprised to find many separate items in the report of the committee’s most recent meeting.

It is not surprising that it takes so much time and effort to identify existing problems, and even more time to spread the word.

The most pleasing to me is that there are those doing their very best to find solutions to what needs be done, not the least of that being the ways and means of paying for it.

Let us be thankful for those who give of themselves for the common good.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is