BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Endicott Park Rangers Dave and Joan Townley have been stewards of the 165-acre park for more than 40 years.
When they retire Jan. 1, they will leave “big shoes to fill,” said Town Manager Wayne Marquis.
The Townleys have not only made the park their home, living in the six-room, upstairs apartment in the carriage house visitor center, they have made the 165-acre park into a place where young people can learn about nature.
“The park is a gift to the townspeople, a gift to the community,” said Chief Ranger Dave Townley, “and we are hoping that they will keep on giving in the future.”
Endicott Park attracts nearly 160,000 visitors a year, who can take long walks down the trails, bring children to the playground, go snowshoeing and sledding, or pet the animals in the barn. There are community garden plots and monthly nature programs.
For more than four decades, the Townleys have been live-in stewards of the park on Forest Street, watching over the animals in the barn, including a 30-year-old pony named Jake, and maintaining and caring for the grounds and buildings, which include the carriage house and a large hay barn.
They raised their three children at the park. Adults now, their son Jason lives in Montana, daughter Karen in Rowley, and daughter Kathy in Berlin, N.H. The kids also did plenty of chores growing up.
As the Townleys prepare to move to Conway, N.H., where they have had a home for 10 years, the Danvers Kiwanis Club plans to award them a lifetime achievement award on Jan. 28 at the Danversport Yacht Club. Proceeds from the event will endow a scholarship for a Danvers student pursuing a college degree in park management. (The $40 per person tickets to the dinner can be bought at the Recreation Department in Town Hall, 1 Sylvan St., or at Harnett’s Auto Body, 15 Water St.)
“We are in our 70s, and we’ve been here 41 years, and it’s time,” said Dave Townley. “We need some new, fresh ideas.”
“Theirs has been a labor of love for these past 40-plus years at Endicott Park,” Marquis said. “They have done a terrific job as caretakers and advocates for the park. We owe them a very big debt of gratitude for their work in making Endicott Park one of the true gems here on the North Shore.”
Dave, who has been on the job for 41 years, is retiring as park director and chief ranger, while Joan is retiring as the wildlife biologist and interpreter. In their early years at the park, Joan was raising her children but was also a full-time “volunteer.” She worked the family’s Christmas tree business for a number of years and became a full-time ranger in 1996 when an opening became available. Five rangers oversee the park.
As park rangers, they are law enforcement officers and trained EMTs, responding to medical aid calls within the park. They also greet schoolchildren and give educational talks.
Because they live at Endicott Park, there is technically no time off. But no matter.
“We have never gotten tired of it,” Joan said.
The town acquired the property from R.S. Robie Realty Co. and Richard Robie in 1961 for $330,000 under former Danvers Town Manager Robert Curtis. It was Curtis who hired Dave Townley.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Danvers had large truck farms along Route 114.
“There were people in town who did not really see the value of buying an old farm,” Joan said. Those at the time like Ralph Goodno, who was a member of the Conservation Commission and a teacher at Essex Aggie, and others had the vision that open space would someday be valuable, she said.
The purchase spared the park from becoming a 250-home development. The park also encompasses 11 acres owned by the Danvers Historical Society.
The Townleys, who have been married for 49 years, met at Essex Aggie, where Joan studied animal husbandry and Dave studied forestry, park management and natural resources. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in forestry and park management from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in outdoor education from the University of New Hampshire.
He taught for 18 years at Essex Aggie, and in 1972 the Townleys were hired to do a master plan for the park. It had pretty much been left alone since the town bought it.
Under the Townleys, Endicott Park became a place dedicated to environmental education, with programs that include monthly nature presentations, crafts and others programs.
“The master plan was to make it an environmental education center,” Dave said. “We’ve been working toward that all these years.”
“The wilderness is great, but if you can’t get in there, it doesn’t mean much to you. So, it was to facilitate bringing the open space and the people together in a comfortable atmosphere,” Joan said of their vision for the park.
Dave said he’s going to miss “the excitement of the children,” while Joan will miss “most of all the people, because they are like a huge family now. We see people here, we see them in the grocery store, and we stop and we chat. We have wonderful volunteers who have come in and just made a huge difference.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.