Ever drive down Route 302 in Raymond in the summer and see women wearing bright green T-shirts weeding the town’s gardens?

They’re members of volunteer group in Raymond called Walk n Weed, which meets weekly to tend to the garden beds. They maintain 70 beds along Route 302, as well as the gardens at Veterans Memorial Park, the Raymond boat launch, the public library and the town offices. Around the winter holidays, they hang wreaths and ribbons on poles and businesses along Route 302.

Started more than a decade ago, what was originally a volunteer-sponsored organization has evolved into a partnership with the town.

Sharon Dodson, co-chairwoman of the Raymond Beautification Committee, has led the volunteer gardening group since its inception in the early 2000s. The Route 302 gardens were built in 2002, as part of the town’s $606,000 project to improve Route 302 with sidewalks and new street lights.

But when the gardens were established, there was no money in the budget to maintain them. Town Manager Don Willard has said the goal was to find a way to keep the gardens without bringing on a full-time crew and causing an increase in the budget.

Dodson said she was approached by Mike McClellan, then-director of the Greater Bridgton Chamber of Commerce, as well as a state representative. He convinced her that as a business owner on the road (Dodson and her husband formerly owned True Value Hardware), she had a strong incentive to keep the gardens looking tip-top.

So she joined the Raymond Beautification Committee, and then rolled up her sleeves and started tending the gardens. But, she said, she and the other few volunteers were scrambling to keep them in good shape. She spent so much time weeding, it became a full-time chore.

The volunteers soon proved their dedication to the project to town officials. Dodson said once the town saw this dedication, it “stepped up and was very supportive.”

The town’s involvement has increased significantly during the last decade, according to Willard. In 2015, the town hired two Public Works employees who assist with transportation, heavy lifting and disposal.

Now there is a core group of six volunteers, and 20 volunteers who receive email updates about the walk-and-weed agendas. For Dodson, the town involvement and steady volunteer dedication shows the group “has evolved so that it has longevity, it’s going to to last.”

It wasn’t always that way. When the group first started, the gardens weren’t maintained consistently. Now she takes pride in the fact that the gardens look good year-round.

The gardens are a source of pride for the town, too. Willard, who is on vacation this week, told the group at its annual meeting last fall that when visitors stop by the town office, they often wonder how a small town can maintain and manage such extensive gardens.

“We do it with a public-private partnership,” he told the group. “It’s been a success and I think it’s a mature effort now.”

The volunteer gardeners also receive assistance – financial and in-kind – from other local civic groups, including the Lions Club, the Veterans Memorial Park Committee and more. Local businesses donate to the club, which pays for all its own flowers, materials and tools.

Alice Olford got involved with the group three years ago because she likes gardening “and love the idea this was a group that got their hands dirty,” she said.

Olford said it’s “a great source of pride to drive down Route 302 and have it look so beautiful.” People often stop to thank the women for their work and compliment their success, which makes it very rewarding, she said.

While some people get involved with the group and become devoted volunteers, Dodson said, others choose to drop in every now and then. The group will take all the help they can get, Dodson said.

Others may choose to “adopt a garden,” and take over weeding and maintenance for a specific town flower bed. People who adopt gardens usually tend to them on their own schedules, she said.

Joe Bruno, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the Raymond Beautification Committee and Walk n Weed are “a great example of how the town of Raymond has volunteers that step up every day and help the town.”

“If you had to start paying for all this stuff, the mil rate would increase,” Bruno said. And volunteerism “is what makes Raymond a real community,” he said.

Walk n Weed members, from left, Alice Olford, Sharon Dodson, Elissa Gifford and Jan Miller, tend to flowers at Veterans Memorial Park on Route 302. The memorial park is the weekly gathering place for Raymond’s volunteer group that tends to all of the town’s public gardens.

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