PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Highland Park will now be renamed after the late Christopher R. Porter.
The Parks Commission approved the renaming after a hearing on Tuesday. Porter owned and operated C.R. Porter Builders, working on many of the city's parks, and was known in the community for his philanthropy and voluntarily maintaining the park. He died last December at age 54.
A group of citizens banded together to push for not only the renaming of the park but to also improve it.
"We've already raised $4,000 in a heartbeat. It was simple. It is going to be one of the nicest parks you could ever imagine," former Mayor Gerry Doyle said of the group's efforts and plans.
According to Dick Rivers, who heads the committee, the plan is to firstly replace the fence, which is old and worn, and install a sign. But, the future includes even more fundraising for park improvements, from benches to playground equipment.
Rivers said the fundraising is about half of the group's goal of $8,000 and the next fundraiser is scheduled for Nov. 6 at Portsmitts with a raffle drawing and pasta dinner.
Rob Plankey's children used to play at the park with Porter when they were all young. But, since then the park has "gone to heck" and has lost appeal. He is fully supportive of the renaming as well as the fundraising efforts to bring it back to the park he knew so well years ago.
"I'm so happy that they are going to do something there. It's been dormant. There is nothing there," Plankey said.
Parks and Open Spaces Manager Jim McGrath said the city has also reached a deal with the owner of an adjacent parcel, which had basically been used as part of the park but privately owned, to purchase it — making what is known as the park actually the park.
Porter was a Taconic High School graduate who not only was a steward of Highland Park but was known for raising money and making donations to numerous local charities and organizations.
The Parks Commission had renamed a number of parks over the years. Pitt Park was renamed after the Rev. Willard Durant and that has triggered significant energy and efforts into making improvements there. Meanwhile, the field at Clapp Park was renamed after former PHS baseball coach Buddy Pellerin and a group there has launched fundraising campaigns and has plans for significant improvements.
The only opposition for renaming Highland Park was from blogger Dan Valenti who submitted a letter to the commission saying the trend of renaming parks has gone too far.
"I am strongly opposed to renaming Highland Park for Chris Porter. It has nothing to do with Mr. Porter, I don't know him and I can't say I've even heard of him. This fad of renaming public spaces for private people has been carried too far," Valenti wrote.
The letter later read, "a city begins to lose its character when it throws out a known, recognizable, and cherished name for one put forward for more political purposes."
That letter was greeted dismissively by former mayor Doyle, who said, "I don't care what Dan Valenti's got to say. It is not important to us. When you are in Stockbridge, don't tell us what to do in Pittsfield."
The Parks Commission had already supported the renaming for Porter at its September meeting but held the public hearing to follow the normal process for such a change. With a room full of supporters for the hearing, the commission unanimously approved the change to the Christopher R. Porter Memorial Park.
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