Harrybrooke Park has for 50 years been — and remains — a special place to make memories.

The privately-owned park in New Milford is where parents push their babies in strollers for a leisurely walk around the 0.75-mile paved loop.

It’s where mothers and fathers walk hand-in-hand with their toddlers across fields of grass to reach the swing set, and teach their young children to ride a bike.

It’s where families celebrate birthdays, graduations and weddings, and groups host picnics, reunions and other festive activities, often at one of the pavilions or under a shaded glade of trees.

It’s where individuals hike trails, pause to admire the gardens, ponds and fountains, photograph nature and find solitude.

As the park celebrates its 50th anniversary this year (see story, Page S3 for the park’s history), there is a feeling of renewal and hope among its board of managers.

“The park is being reborn,” said Bill Deak, chairman of the park’s four-member board of managers who oversee the operation of the 48-acre park and its buildings.

“It was a beautiful park, but it went through a (rough) period of time,” Deak said during a recent interview at the park’s refurbished Harden House Museum, the former home of Frank Harden, whose estate became Harrybrooke Park (see sidebar for history).

“Now we’re heading in the direction of making it a beautiful place again,” he added.

Resident Helen Jackson, who has walked at the park regularly for the past six years, said she loves it there.

“I think it’s a wonderful and generous donation that Harden left the park to New Milford residents,” she said.

“We love the park,” said 15-year resident Patricia Onorato, who has fond childhood memories of visiting the park, which at the time was home to peacocks.

“I consider (the park) one of the greatest blessings of living in New Milford,” said Onorato, who cited the daily activities she and her family do at the park year-round.

Her children — twins Chloe and Christina, 15, and Sylvia, 18 — learned to walk and to ride bikes and scooters at the park, built snowmen in winter and have seen countless wildlife throughout their childhood.

“It is a treasure,” Onorato said.

The board of managers, the Friends of Harrybrooke Park, a group of volunteers not affiliated with the board, and staff have been working diligently for the past several years to rejuvenate the park and its buildings, making it a more inviting venue for individuals and groups.

To that end, a few additional staff members have recently joined the board in navigating the park’s rebirth and day-to-day operations.

Deak noted staff is now available to help coordinate on-site events, something that hadn’t been offered in the past.

There is a new emphasis on park weddings. An event coordinator is available and can provide resources for wedding-related services, making the park a sort of “one-stop shopping” place, Deak said.

Over the years, the two rentable pavilions and a picnicking area under a stand of trees have been popular attractions.

The pavilions were built by the New Milford Lions Club.

The Ohmen Pavilion, in memory of longtime community activist Robert Ohmen, was built in 1990 to commemorate the Lions’ 60th and the park’s 25th anniversaries.

The Conn Pavilion, named for the late Walter Conn, a New Milford businessman and state representative, was built in 2005 to commemorate the Lions’ 75th and the park’s 40th anniversaries.

Soon, the Harden House Museum, located in the Hardens’ former home, will be available to rent for meetings, conferences, weddings and other intimate festivities.

Additionally, the museum will be open for public tours for the first time in decades.

“This is a unique place,” Deak said, glancing around the museum’s living room, adorned with vases, glassware, art and 1940-era and older furnishings. “It’s something with elegance.”

In recent years, the park has teamed up with other groups in town, like the Lions Club, for an early autum fair, as well as multiple community groups for the Haunted Trail, offered last year for the first time.

The events have been so successful — and have brought in funds for the park and sponsor-groups — that the fair will be offered this year for two days and the trail will be offered four nights instead of two.

Deak credits the Friends of Harrybrooke as a “miracle” for the park. They stepped up and began raising awareness and money for the park several years ago when the park was on the brink of closing for good.

Since then, the Friends have “donated a lot of manpower,” Deak said.

He noted the volunteers’ work with park gardens and their help with museum restoration.

The museum has a new roof, walls have been repaired, and rooms have been restored to their original state.

Funds have come from FOH, as have various grants.

“Over the course of last year, we’ve taken Harrybrooke to a new place,” Deak said.

Other changes in recent times include the park’s entrance and exit and park hours.

The park entrance used to be along Lanesville Road, but was relocated to Still River Drive a few years ago.

Last year, the board decided to keep the park open all year-round, weather permitting, whereas in the past, the park was open only late May through Columbus Day.

Additionally, the board now comprises four members including chairman Bill Deak, Mayor Pat Murphy, Lee Colville and attorney Thomas Mott.

Staff includes Amy Gantert, director of marketing; Tammy Deak, event coordinator who will handle anything related to the museum and events; Lisa Todd, park caretaker/coordinator for pavilion rentals; and Jim Bannan, the groundskeeper.

For more information, visit www.harrybrookepark.org or call 860-799-6520.

drose@newstimes.com; 860-355-7324