Rare Public Event
Look Park Trustees Get Earful From 'Friends'
The trustees of Look Park fielded a range of complaints offered up by members of the Friends of Look Park at a rare public meeting Sunday afternoon.
Held at the Garden House and lasting slightly more than an hour, this first-of-its-kind gathering was intended to allow the board to explain some of its recent actions, which have proved to be controversial, and to address the park’s financial condition and its future plans.
A number of audience members expressed concern that the recent extension of the city’s bike path into the park has raised safety issues for pedestrians and those who walk in the park with their dogs.
Edward Etheredge, chairman of the board and member for 32 years, said park personnel were equally concerned about the lack of protection for walkers, saying the current yellow striping of the walkway does not provide sufficient segregation for bikers and those on foot. He indicated some action was being considered to make walkers feel safer.
One woman said that, as a long-time walker in the park, she was not only worried about safety, (“it feels like a superhighway”) but was upset by a section of the (former?) walkway banning pedestrians. “Certainly that didn’t make me feel very welcome.” (That ban has recently been lifted by taping over of the printed admonition.)
I asked the board why a number of important changes at the park – the extension of the bike trail into the park, and the impact on the park of the impending roundabout at its North Main Street entrance – took place without prior explanation by the board or involvement of the public in these decisions. I said it seems to be a pattern for the board to operate out of view of the public.
Director Ray Ellerbrook (back left) and Trustee Chairman Edward Etheredge (back right) talk with Friends members
Etheredge admitted that park had been lax in publicizing its involvement in the bike trail project and the roundabout, but said it had a continuing role in monitoring plans for both of those undertakings.
Asked by Eleanor Rothman if it had had the power to do so, would the board have declined to approve the bike trail intrusion into the park, Etheredge did not say so explicitly, but implied the park fully backed the bike trail project and the plans for the roundabout.
As far as the roundabout was concerned, one woman, who described herself as a neighbor of the park, said she was pained at the prospect that trees (some 25) on park land across from the North Main street entrance would be cut down to make way for the roundabout. “All of the trees, everyone of them,” will be removed, she said. “I look at those trees, and I suffer for them.”
In response to the issue of the board’s relationship to the public, Rutherford Platt said he would propose the creation of a community advisory board the would have an “on-going, continuing” role in decision making about the park.
“There is so much talent in this community,” said Platt. “People just love this park,” implying that some city residents would undoubtedly be glad to serve on an advisory board.
In presentations prior to the question period, trustee Robert Ostberg said that, from a financial standpoint the park faces the challenge of declining revenue as investment income dips, and rising expenses of maintaining the park. Although not providing specifics about the financial condition of the park, Ostberg said the Garden House is “alive and well,” and revenue from the summer concert series has helped.
Still, he said, there are major capital expenses that the park faces, including dredging Willow Lake to remove years of silt and vegetation build-up, as well as repairing crumbling walls along the Mill River as it winds through the park.
He emphasized that while the land the park sits on is owned by the city, Look Park “doesn’t get a dime from the city.”
Also speaking was Ray Ellerbrook, executive director of the park for the last eight years. In his report, he said that there were plans to open a bike shop in the basement of the Garden House to service those who ride through the park. It could be open by next April. Also, he said the park is seeking a $75,000 grant in community preservation funds to finance a design and permitting study of the proposed lake dredging project and the development of two sections of property near the Dow Pavilion as playing fields for city sports activities.
He also said the summer concert series might be expanded to 6 or 8 concerts next year, which will help bolster park finances.
Trustee Nancy Reeves told the assembled Friends that their role was essential for the park as it seeks to address capital expenses. So far the Friends have contributed $19,000 toward a goal of $50,000. “Every check you write makes a big difference,” she said.
Among the other future projects that will be costly are plans for rebuilding the fountain at the park entrance, which is estimated to cost $400,000.
Trustee Sharianne Walker said the unusually wet June and July this year had a major impact on lower park usage and reduced revenue, but still there were countless successful events and activities, especially in the early spring and this fall.
One Friend suggested that to improve the physical appearance of the park, especially its grooming, that students from the high school and Smith ‘Vocational High School might be recruited to perform chores as a community service.
She also suggested that revenue could be increased if every one who purchased an admission sticker chipped in an additional dollar or more to support the park. Another possibility, she said, was to solicit email addresses from members of the Friends group and others who purchase park permits. Such an email outreach system would be an efficient way to update the public about upcoming events and other park news.
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