Periodically throughout its 75-year history, Adams Park has been nurtured by volunteer caregivers who treated the quiet getaway in downtown Wheaton as their personal garden.
Women's garden clubs and preservation groups tended to the serene landscape and fought against projects that would have encroached on their beloved park.
But many of those benefactors have stepped down from the role, and the city's public works department lacks the manpower to cultivate the colorful but high-maintenance annual gardens that had been managed by resident stewards.
As the downtown gem turns 75 this year, Wheaton officials say they want to develop a blueprint for the park to help the city plan for new sidewalks, accessibility improvements, landscaping and long-term maintenance. They hired a landscape architect firm this week to gather input and create the plans.
At least one city council member says she will resist any changes that diminish the park's charm and history. Councilwoman Suzanne Fitch knows there are some imperfections, but she also thinks those "add to the character of the park."
"Adams Park is my favorite park in all of Wheaton. I love it. I love it because it's scenic," Fitch said. "It's charming. It has a whimsical quality to it. You often see children playing and imagining in the park and, most importantly, it's historic."
The park maintains a link to an early chapter in Wheaton's past. The land once was the site of a stately mansion owned by John Quincy Adams, a distant relative of the president of the same name. His daughter donated the site to the city after her death in 1942.
The original fountain outside the Adams mansion still serves as the park's focal point.
"I think we should preserve the park instead of destroying the park," Fitch said. "I think the way it exists in its current condition is perfect. I think we should just preserve what's there."
City officials say they're not looking to destroy the park or its historic allure, but are seeking a plan for its future.
"I think all we're looking for is a definitive plan that we can follow. From what I know, there was a plan done by an arborist from the (Morton) Arboretum that was developed back in the '20s as the only plan document that we have for the park, and we're not even following that," City Manager Mike Dzugan told the council. "It hasn't been followed in many, many years, so we struggle with what should the park look like."
The grounds used to look like more of an arboretum-style park. Dense shrubbery previously enclosed the park that occupies a square city block neighboring the Wheaton Public Library.
"So you couldn't see in and you couldn't see out, because the intent was to create a sense that you were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the park. But that has since been all ripped out for reasons we don't know why or who made those decisions," Dzugan said.
Today, some of the trees are overgrown and sidewalks should be replaced, said Susan Wallace, administrative superintendent of public works.
"The garden clubs that would maintain it are no longer here," Wallace said. "They have all retired, so some of those caregivers that we had that did things voluntarily are not here, either."
Fitch was the lone council member Tuesday to vote against a $22,444 agreement to hire Upland Design, a landscape architect firm, to create conceptual plans for revitalizing Adams Park. Upland also is tasked with holding stakeholder meetings to gather input on possible improvements that would maintain the park's integrity, Wallace said.
"We're really just looking for directions on how to go forward, and there's a lot of passion in town for people who want to make sure that the park is preserved," Wallace said.