Benson's continues comeback

HUDSON – The first big step in bringing life back to Benson’s Wild Animal Farm has started.

Selectmen have signed contracts with two outfits to start rebuilding the deteriorating roofs of five buildings at the defunct animal park. Volunteers will soon start clearing debris and brush on the 165-acre site.

The two projects will help realize the town’s goal of reopening the park as a picnic ground and walking area.

It’s possible the public could have access to the main areas of the park in September if weather cooperates and allows work to be done, Assistant Town Administrator Mark Pearson said.

Benson’s Wild Animal Farm – long a popular destination spot for people all over New England – closed in 1987. The park had amusement rides, monkeys, lions and a large array of wild animals.The town of Hudson this year bought the property for $188,000. But after lying dormant for years, the Benson’s property was in no shape to be accessible to the public.

Vegetation has taken over animal cages. The roof of the Hazelton Barn dips. Graffiti and water damage spoil the elephant house. The gorilla house roof stays afloat only because of the steel cage inside; the wooden structure has become deficient over time.

The town will spend $140,000 to repair the roofs of five of the six buildings on site, and earlier this month signed agreements with two contractors for that work.

KSL Contracting of Derry will receive more than $96,000 to repair the roofs of the Hazelton Barn, the old Benson’s office building, the gorilla house and the “A-Frame” structure that used to be an eating spot, Pearson said. KSL has already started its projects, he said.

Shadan Construction of Pelham will be paid $43,000 to fix the elephant house roof, Pearson said.

Repairs for the park’s railroad depot were put on hold, Pearson said. There wasn’t enough money in the $140,000 funding to fix that slate roof. But the town does have a state grant with a 25-percent match in funds that will be used for that work, he said.

For that matter, the town also has several hundred thousand dollars set aside – collected from grants and impact fees – for repairs.

But despite this pot of money, a group of volunteers have offered to clear away debris, Pearson said. Brush and hazards such as broken glass and old boards will be removed to prepare the park for the public.

Benson’s could open with work still being conducted on the large Hazelton Barn, which sits at a distance from the park proper, Pearson said.

But the goal is to have the roofs on the other four buildings repaired and walkway areas cleared so that the public can enjoy the spot by September, Pearson said.

In the meantime, the town asks that residents stay out the park, Pearson said. Some people have been going in there for recreational use, but the park needs to remain clear of people while work is being done, he said.