Local park gets ‘vintage’ addition

SAN MARCOS — The two oldest houses in San Marcos got a makeover Sept. 27 despite the fact that no one has lived in them for years. The historic Cox and Bidwell houses at Walnut Grove Park were two of six properties selected to be improved as part of this year’s annual Volunteer Improvement Beautification Event, or VIBE.
Normally, VIBE volunteers clear out trash, weed overgrown lawns and repaint peeling walls for low-income homeowners. The routine was a little different for the two historic properties that make up Heritage Park. The more than 150 volunteers who arrived at 8 a.m. hauled out debris, but more importantly, they planted the first Victorian-style garden ever to be stocked with only California native, drought-tolerant plants.
“Most people think of a native garden as cactus,” Karl Schwarm, director of housing and neighborhood services, said. Schwarm initiated the VIBE program five years ago. “We’re planting to show that natives can look nice in a Victorian setting.”
VIBE events are usually funded by Community Development Block Grants from the state, but Heritage Park doesn’t qualify as an eligible project so organizers went out to the community to raise funds. The most prominent of the donors was Pacific Marine Credit Union, which became title sponsor for the VIBE and the garden itself. Rossi’s Pizza fed the hungry corps at lunchtime and EDCO provided the trash bins.
The event drew a wide spectrum of volunteers including city commissioners, the tough trainees in Palomar College’s Fire Academy and members of the San Marcos Kiwanis.
Three-time VIBE volunteer Hailey McAfee from the San Marcos High School Golf Club came out despite her leg being in a cast. She said she liked the bonding experience.
“It’s fun to just get together and work on one thing, and then you can step back and see what you did,” she said. “It’s nice to compare it to what it looked like before.”
The city hopes that the new garden will attract visitors to Heritage Park not only as a period accent to the historical houses, but as a showcase of eco-friendly landscaping.
“This one is a brand new wrinkle,” city analyst and volunteer Dan Weinheimer said. “It’ll kind of make this more of a destination so people will come and see the homes.” Weinheimer said the city, the Vallecitos Water District and the San Marcos Historical Society all had a hand in the planning of the garden, and he hopes to get other organizations involved, too.
“We’re going to try to reach out to (Twin Oaks) elementary school and the other community partners to make it kind of an ongoing community project,” Weinheimer said.
When the VIBE volunteers left at 4 p.m., the garden was still just a plot of near-seedlings. The gazebo and bench, made solely from recycled plastic, won’t be installed until next month, and the garden won’t be fully mature for two years. Still, San Marcos Historical Society board member Tanis Brown saw a lot to be happy about.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “It was like Christmas or Extreme Makeover on the TV. It was miraculous what all these people could do in a day.”
More information on San Marcos’ Heritage Park can be found at www.sanmarcoshistoricalsociety.org.

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