Weekly Feature

2018-09-12 / Front Page

Steadfast committee fought years for Glen Park

Peggy Christensen was pivotal chairwoman
by ANNA DEROSA Associate Editor

This is a current depiction of Glen Falls, which is located at Glen Park in Williamsville. The All-Park Committee helped keep the falls available for public viewing by fighting to conserve the park in its entirety in the 1970s. 
Photo courtesy of the Village of Williamsville This is a current depiction of Glen Falls, which is located at Glen Park in Williamsville. The All-Park Committee helped keep the falls available for public viewing by fighting to conserve the park in its entirety in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of the Village of Williamsville With its waterfall and serene walkways, it’s difficult to imagine Glen Park taking any other shape than a park. It’s considered a gem in the Village of Williamsville and a place families return to no matter the season.

Some people even remember paying only a nickel for a ride when the Glen area was an amusement park back in the 1960s. And years later — after a fire destroyed the park structures — some remember a tireless fight to preserve the park and keep it the green space that it is today.

A committee, called the All-Park Committee, dedicated its time to this fight. The late Margaret “Peggy” Batson Christensen, who was the chairwoman of the committee, was known as a mover and shaker of the time. She is not only remembered for her tenacity, but her ability to help make a change and inspire others along the way. She died on July 3 at the age of 93.

Margaret “Peggy” Batson Christensen Margaret “Peggy” Batson Christensen In August 1972, the Urban Development Corp. revealed plans for the Glen, including high-rise apartment complexes with some commercial shops, leaving only a strip area for a park, according to a report from the All-Park Committee.

After news spread, residents joined two members of the Amherst Conservation Council, chairman and town resident Rick LaClair and village resident Nancy Drost, to form “Citizens to Preserve Glen Park” in March 1973.

And in June of that year, the Village Board held a hearing on Glen Park. According to a report from the All-Park Committee, a group called the Citizens’ Committee presented a report supporting a strip park.

The board decided to hold an advisory referendum. Although statements circulated that the park would be costly, votes for an all-park garnered the most votes.

A couple of days after the advisory referendum, the board voted to negotiate for a strip park. The Village Board then appointed two new committees: a Strip Park Committee, comprised mostly of the Citizens’ Committee, and an All-Park Committee, primarily comprised of Citizens to Preserve Glen Park.

In July, Peggy Christensen was appointed chairwoman by Mayor Richard J. Metz, who instructed her to appoint a committee to study multiple areas, including how to develop an all-park, available funding, cost, and land use and flood plan studies. She submitted a list of 13 names, which were approved by the board in October.

“They polled on their own, they went door to door throughout the village and they wanted to see — before there was a vote — how the village felt about it, said Peggy Santillo about the All-Park Committee. Santillo is a retired high school teacher and former Town of Amherst council member.

Mary Lowther added that the members of the committee also provided education on the matter, such as what was happening, what could happen and what they were proposing. Lowther is the village historian and a former mayor of the village.

According to the May 7, 1975, edition of The Amherst Bee, the Village Board’s May 13 agenda included a formal bond resolution for acquisition to the entire Glen property and a resolution authorizing Mayor Marvin Mason to sign the purchase agreement with the owner, Emprise Corp.

It was approved at the cost of $340,000 at the meeting. However if 733 qualified voters petitioned for a referendum within 30 days, village residents would have voted on the purchase.

Within those 30 days, hundreds of names were submitted, but the action remained final because the 705 names submitted before the deadline were 68 short of the required 773, according to the June 18, 1975, edition of The Bee.

According to the Aug. 6 1975, edition of The Bee, “the Village Board announced Friday that the Glen property, consisting of some 9.7 acres of land adjacent to scenic Glen Falls and the Onondaga escarpment located in the heart of the village, has been conveyed by Emprise Corp. to the village.”

This was appropriately in time for the village’s sesquicentennial cerebration.

According to the May 18, 1977, edition of The Bee, Williamsville Mayor John B. Sheffer II said the following words at the groundbreaking ceremonies, on May 17, for the park development project:

“Glen Park has been the focus of more village energy and attention than perhaps any other issue in recent memory.”

For many years, Christensen wrote a column called “Focal Points” for the Metro Community News, highlighting local politics and environmental issues. Santillo describes Christensen as being a prolific writer and mentor.

“I was fascinated that this woman in her 60s was writing these hard-hitting articles,” she said.

She noted that Christensen often went head to toe with what was all men at the time, on the village and town boards, and other aspects of government.

“People would send her letters and say how wonderful and helpful these articles are.”

Christensen also encouraged Santillo to get involved and attend local government meetings. This led to Santillo serving as a town council member from 1991 to 2000. Lowther was also influenced by Christensen and was the first woman mayor of the village.

One of the first things Santillo did when she got elected was have a Glen Park Appreciation Day. Christensen had provided her with materials such as maps and a variety of articles in relation to what happened.

“I started a nature program in the building that was sitting empty at that time; we cleaned it out and got a grant from the county,” Santillo said.

She added that Christensen gave her items from the battle to make Glen Park a park and had it displayed in there.

Christensen met her husband, Richard, at the University of Buffalo. They were married in 1948. Both she and her husband were recognized by the Buffalo Audubon Society with the Sheldon Merritt Award. Her husband was an active environmentalist and birder as well.

Thanks to Christensen and the All-Park Committee members, data was gathered for the belief that the village should obtain Glen Park for a nature preserve. Since then, the village and residents have been able to enjoy the park and can do so for many years to come.

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