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Parks & Rec Seeking Support For Park Restoration

“I think the timing is crucial now to get the project out to the community,” landscape designer Billie Cohen wrote in a recent correspondence to Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Ed Marks. Ms Cohen and the commission have been looking at her schematic design of what Dickinson Park could become in the future — a restored natural sanctuary within and around the existing recreational park, as she states in a mission statement.

Questions of funding and community support to move the project forward remain.

At a commission meeting earlier this month she told members she wants to “get [the park plans] out there” because “I think it’s so healing for the community.” Her vision to re-create Dickinson Park into something educational and interactive already has received commission members’ blessings, and they now hope to get Ms Cohen’s schematic designs and new park concepts out to the public.

With a color rendering propped up for members to see, she pointed to where a visitor/education center could stand, observation decks and boardwalks over waterways and streams, trails systems, butterfly gardens, habitat gardens, viewing platforms, and more.

Trailing her finger across different points on the schematic, she drew the commission’s attention to the connecting trails, fields, gardens, play spaces, and recreation areas. “I want to keep immersing people in the different environments,” she said. With a water table “so close to the surface,” she said, “you’re walking over wetlands.”

In that environment she pictures benches and viewing platforms making areas more than just a garden, “but a quiet, contemplative place.”

Noting that one stretch of tributary stream leading into Deep Brook has been daylighted, or brought to the surface where it had previously been piped belowground, she proposes bringing other underground areas of stream water to light. “These are areas where children can play,” she said.

Neither the town nor Ms Cohen have money identified for the project. Possibilities for funding the park improvements — in parts or as a whole — could come from Capital Improvement Plan town funds, grant money, or fundraising. Before funding, however, the project must gain support from residents and town officials beyond the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Already, Ms Cohen has spoken with resident Bill Toomey with the Nature Conservancy, which gave a “thumbs up” on the project, she said, but has invested no funds at this time.

To the commission members Mr Toomey said, “We’re excited to be part of this.” He indicated that once Dickinson plans become a “live project we can put energy into it.” He also wants to be sure that plans have town officials’ support. With a variety of courses of action in mind, he said, “First we want to know the level of approval.”

Member Jan Brookes noted that Ms Cohen was asking the commission about the next step in moving plans ahead.

With a playground project slated for this season, Carl Samuelson, assistant director parks, said, “We could use the soils there to build butterfly mounds.” Throughout Ms Cohen’s schematic are butterfly gardens around the playground, meadow areas, and wetlands.

Members spoke about grant possibilities, and what types of projects could be done at low cost, in order to get plans started.

Ms Cohen suggested, “Stripping some grass and planting meadows; stop mowing some areas and just mow a path could change features without costing anything.” Her schematic includes native habitats, meadows, and gardens throughout the park.

Asking that the conversation continue at the May Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, Chairman Marks suggested that signs at Dickinson to help the public “see the vision” would be “a great way to get people involved and excited about the project.”

Ms Cohen and the commission are considering forming a committee to concentrate on the Dickinson Park project.

The mission statement describes the Dickinson restoration plans as a park site that “not only engages visitors, but supports and generates wildlife and natural habitat.” The statement discusses a Wetland Education Center that will serve as a living-learning laboratory promoting environmental literacy and “awareness to the healing and restorative power of nature.” The existing pavilion, tennis courts, playground, skate park, and ball field will be “immersed in native habitat gardens and wetlands.”

The statement talks about a park that will “integrate the inherent beauty with the regional woodlands and wetlands systems. “

Programming at a community/education center will focus on local ecology and green systems “inviting educators to collaborate and develop new curriculums.”

The statement concludes: “Transforming this recreational park is crucial at a time when habitats and beautiful spaces are rapidly disappearing … By integrating recreational facilities with the restored ecosystem, the park will transform and enrich the expected park experience for schools, families, and people of all ages.”

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