Williamburg’s chief volunteer landscaper Nick Dines
CAROL LOLLISNick Dine pruning plants in the Reflection garden in Williamsburg where he has volunteered his landscaping skills. Purchase photo reprints »
CAROL LOLLISNick Dines talks about the angel garden in Williamsburg, one of the many place she has volunteered his landscaping skills. Purchase photo reprints »
Nick Dine pruning plants in the Reflection garden in Williamsburg where he has volunteered his landscaping skills. Purchase photo reprints »
About 13 years ago, state engineers issued a plan for reconstructing Route 9 through the center of Williamsburg. Resident Nick Dines didn’t like what he saw: As he recalls, the proposal seemed designed mostly to funnel traffic at high speed through town, with no parking for local businesses and no easy way for pedestrians to cross the busy road.
So Dines, then a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a member of Williamsburg’s Planning Board, developed his own plan.
It was a very different design, with pedestrian crosswalks and other calming devices to slow traffic. There was parking for local businesses, a wide shoulder for bicyclists and public spaces with trees, shrubs and benches — a town common of sorts.
Backed by a petition from residents and town officials, Dines showed his plan to state officials, who accepted it — and that started him on a second career as a volunteer.
“It’s made a big difference in the feel of town center,” Dines says of his redesign. “Now it’s a place where people can come together.”
Since then, Dines, who retired from UMass in 2003, has initiated several projects to revitalize Williamsburg center. He’s planted 800 feet of flower beds along Route 9; led the redesign and renovation of a veterans memorial park; designed and constructed Angels Park, a small garden park near the elementary school that hosts summer concerts and other events; and led a significant redesign of grounds around the renovated Meekins Library.
He’s done all this pro bono, and he keeps busy with the upkeep and oversight of the properties, like weeding Angels Park and maintaining the flower beds. Perhaps more importantly, he’s built a network of support in town for his efforts, from a corps of fellow volunteers to business owners who contribute funds for the projects.
“It really is a collective effort,” says Dines, who’s 68. “It’s a lot of people realizing we all can make a contribution to this idea of the commons.”
One of his supporters says many in town likely assume Dines gets paid for this work.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize he does this on his own,’ says Douglas Baker, manager of the Williamsburg branch of Florence Savings Bank, which contibutes to a town beautification fund that Dines started. “He does a lot of things behind the scenes.”
Dines says he got involved in the highway redesign effort in part because of a call from the American Society of Landscape Architects that year for members to volunteer time on local public projects. That idea has stayed with him, he adds: “I think the profession in general needs to step up its involvement in these kinds of efforts.”
Dines, who is also helping the Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield develop a garden and courtyard for patients, believes communities can improve civic life by creating more public spaces, particularly around natural resources.
To that end, he’s involved in the Mill River Greenway Initiative, a project that includes people from nine towns the river flows through. Their goal is to refurbish land along the waterway, find ways to link those parcels where possible, and make the river more accessible as both a recreational and educational resource.
A first step was the creation of Meekins Mill River Park, the revamped property around the Williamsburg library. Working with town officials and other volunteers, Dines laid a new stone foundation along the riverbank, using granite slabs donated by a Goshen stone company. The volunteers also replaced an old wire fence along the river with a wrought- iron one and installed benches.
Dines worked with the architects doing the library renovation to create an outdoor sitting area and a handicapped-accessible entrance, with a large retaining wall he built himself. The common space around the library is now used for farmers markets, arts and crafts shows and other seasonal events.
Dines says he couldn’t have carried out any of these projects without the support of many others. Building that network, he adds, is probably what he’s most pleased with.
“My long-term goal is to have all of this become part of the town’s persona, part of the town’s ethos ... and I think we’re on the way to doing that.”