Does anyone else remember summer day camps at Triangle Park? Out wandering around with the use of a car today I found myself at the park remembering when it was a City park filled with children even on week days after school and always packed with picnickers on the weekend. If you wanted one of the curiously named shelters you would absolutely need to reserve the Happy Day or the Linger Longer shelters.
The park in 1965 was a spot for scouts and Campfire gatherings and one of those groups had built a totem pole next to the parking lot. It was painted brightly and bore little resemblance to anything from the Northwest first people, but it was 1966 and enlightenment was not too much of a thing back then.
Summer camps there were never long enough for me. We spent the day with the trees each year, giving Mom a respite, and learning the tree names and leaf shapes. We packed a lunch that was eaten with our cohorts sitting at heavy tables or sometimes sitting in the grass under the Buckeye trees or one of the many oaks. The day included crafts and games, but for me learning about the trees was what I couldn’t get enough of.
I already knew many of the trees common to this areas, but Triangle is where I learned so many more. It was like a paradise; this must have been how Eden looked before the adults screwed things up. Different shaped acorns, buckeyes, chipmunks, and squirrels, tiny flowers in the grass were not part of my daily experience and their rarity made them special.
Today, though, I was the only human in the park. With a couple cars in the parking lot next to the large pavilion there was only evidence of other humans: discarded foam trays, a wrapper from a pack of blunts, broken bottles at the Happy Day; a make-shift warming fireplace made from a grill that had rusted and was broken off its pedestal.
Tree limbs and branches littered the park and the grass was in need of mowing, but it was beautiful with the spring beauties and violets blooming like a colorful carpet. I remember those flowers from my childhood spent there and they were no less spectacular 50 years later.
A few years ago I worked at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, the murky vestige of the original Dayton Museum of Natural History. The museum’s presence across the street from Triangle Park added to the magic of that spot. My first job there was as a volunteer coordinator and cleaning out closets I came across a stack of old publications that I was told I should toss. The Trees of Triangle Park by James Ramsey is a 20 page survey of the big variety of trees in Triangle Park in 1960.
Of course I saved a couple. I was thrilled to learn that someone had taken the time to locate and identify almost every tree there.
Sadly, in 2018, trees are missing. The realization made even sadder by re-reading Ramsey’s dedication of his little booklet:
The trees now growing in Triangle Park are those remaining from pristine times augmented with plantings by man. Their existence can be credited to early efforts of Edwin Best, pioneer conservationist, 1839-1928, former owner of the tract, who personally coveted every tree. If one was destroyed, he planted two.
Ed was indeed an early conservationist forming the Montgomery County Fish and Game Protective Club in 1886. Information on a photo in the Dayton Metro Library collection notes that:
Idlewyld, the estate of Best Family, became Triangle Park. Mr. Best each Sunday morning took the streetcar to Helena Street; he then walked over to Phillips boathouse at Miami River and took a skiff up the Miami River to dock at Idlewyld.
Best lived in the city (309 West Second St.) in 1893 and Idlewyld was a rural retreat nearly three miles from his home. Then the city limits were at Mary St., a couple block south of where the present day Ridge Ave. bridge is and so the property was in the township.
Eventually, about 1895, a one-lane, steel trestle bridge provided access from the west. Before that, the boat from Phillips’ boathouse was likely quicker than crossing the bridge from the New Troy Pike (now North Dixie Dr./Keowee St.).
By 1917 he was 78 and that was the year Best sold Idlewyld to Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering who turned that property in to a 100-acre recreation area for employees and the football park of NFL history. The sports complex was down the hill near the confluence of the two rivers while the beautiful arboretum was preserved upland, so that by the mid 1960s the trees were taller and more grand than at any other City of Dayton Park. For a 12-year old who still loved swings and picnics and picking up acorns they seemed to hold up the sky.
Sunday I walked around noticing how the park is now used—apparently only after dark or as a place to pedal through on the bike trail— and felt sad that this major asset has been abandoned by us. While Metroparks and its donors pile money into Cox Arboretum – a lovely feat of landscape design – we have an incredible ancient arboretum almost right downtown that suffers from neglect and makes Cox look like a classic suburban manicured lawn. Triangle has tree-giants and history; so much history.
Back in 1960 Ramsey recorded the “… the larger, more picturesque specimens in which the trunk circumference four and one half feet from the ground measure four feet or more. …” Looking at the map and the circles representing trees it is clear that many of the trees that were recorded in 1960 are gone and a walk through the park one will see the stumps of trees cut for any number of reasons.
That’s an impressive variety of trees, especially for people who regularly see and recognize only about four different species. The only non-native species noted in Ramsey’s survey appears to be the Mulberries. That leaves at least 45 native trees.
I promise I will someday do a tree survey to see what trees remain there. At least 47 different species were recorded by Ramsey in 1960. Among them were at least four types of Ash, American Elm, four hickories and five varieties of oak. Who wants to help reclaim this park with me?