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Williamstown Parks & Rec Advisory Committee Conducting Survey
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:30AM / Saturday, August 10, 2019
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Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee Chairman Tim Carr and Beth McLean participate in Monday's meeting.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee on Monday heard about some of the free recreational offerings that already exist in town and some of the data it already has collected about ways to improve such opportunities.
 
The committee is charged with gathering input from residents and organizations and compiling a list of recommendations to report back to the Select Board, which created the ad hoc committee earlier this year.
 
To date, the advisory panel has heard from groups like the Williamstown Youth Center, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, the Williams Outing Club and youth sports leagues.
 
The committee also has created a brief survey that it has circulated at town events, like the weekly Farmers Market on Spring Street, and made available on the town's website.
 
In the initial weeks, the survey had 138 responses, the committee were told. Sixty-four percent of the respondents identified as full-time Williamstown residents with the next largest group, 17 percent, coming from nearby communities.
 
The top five activities among that group included: walking/running outside, biking, hiking, yoga and swimming.
 
The respondents skewed older, with more than 46 percent coming from respondents aged 45 and up. The committee discussed ways of getting more input from families with young children, including making an appeal to one parent who was in the room to encourage his friends with youngsters to take the survey.
 
Meanwhile, the committee Monday took testimony from two of the town's cultural institutions, a town committee charged with developing plans for a town park on Main Street and a yoga instructor who operates a Spring Street studio.
 
Both the Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art talked about their no-cost offerings.
 
The latter, WCMA, has a collection of more than 14,000 works of art and galleries that are free and open to the public year round, the museum's director of finance and operations told the committee.
 
"There's an invitation we want to have out there for recreational opportunities," Barbara Palmer said. "Come look at two pieces of art for half an hour. … We also have event series, and our opening celebrations are free to the public."
 
Palmer encouraged anyone interested in WCMA's special programs to join its mailing list to get advanced notice. She also informed the committee that the museum's Spring Street satellite location -- created for this summer while Lawrence Hall undergoes renovations -- is going to remain open in the fall even after the main museum resumes operation.
 
"The college just offered us to continue that for the academic year," Palmer said of the Spring Street gallery currently referred to as WCMA Summer Space. "We're going to change out the art. We're going to be putting up a new exhibition there starting in September."
 
Unlike WCMA, the Clark Art Institute charges for admission year round, but the South Street institution does provide free recreational and cultural experiences on its grounds.
 
Matt Noyes, the horticulturalist and grounds manager at the Clark, told the committee that over the last 10 years the museum has worked collaboratively with Rural Lands, the WOC, the Buxton School and Pine Cobble School to create a coordinated network of trails that utilize the Clark's grounds and radiate from them.
 
"Through the years, a lot of things have taken place on campus -- everything from passive dog walking to programmatic things like dog sledding, sledding down the hill, cross-country skiing," Noyes said, mentioning the Clark's tradition of holding outdoor concerts in the summer.
 
The on-campus trail experience includes the outdoor sculpture "Crystal," a site-specific installation by contemporary German artist Thomas Schütte.
 
"During operating hours, visitors have the ability to take a cart out there if you have a disability," Noyes said.
 
"[The Clark is] intertwined in the fabric of the community in so many ways. That has only been more strengthened since the expansion project because it brought the outdoors to everyone more effectively.
 
"There will be some more things to happen up there as we go forward."
 
A lot has happened on the town-owned Spruces property since the former mobile home park was closed, but not as much -- or as quickly -- as the town's Spruces Land Use Committee may have hoped.
 
Andy Hogeland from the Spurces committee told the recreation committee that the town has seen more and more people walking on the property and engaging in passive recreation activities.
 
But talk of installing ball fields or a pavilion proved unrealistic given the conservation restrictions in place from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose grant allowed the town to acquire the property after persistent flooding -- capped by Tropical Storm Irene -- showed that the mobile home park was not viable.
 
Hogeland said the Spruces is on track to be the eastern terminus of a bike trail that will start near the junction of North Street and Syndicate Road. He said construction on that could begin as early as next year.
 
And his committee has discussed plans to mow a large flat area that could be used for a playing field, just nothing as ambitious as the formal soccer and lacrosse fields that some hoped for at the site.
 
"Basically, it's mowing an existing field," Hogeland said, saying the idea would be similar to the mowed trails the town maintains on the site. "For a real playing field, you have to do drain work and lift it up. … If you want a playing field, look around town somewhere else."
 
Hogeland indicated that FEMA would not go along with any plan for a true athletic field and that the Spruces committee waited 13 months to get approval from the federal government to place trash cans on the site.
 
On the other hand, a group of volunteers have held two special events at the Spruces in the last six months: a Winter Festival event in February and an Easter egg hunt in the spring.
 
While a pavilion may not be possible for the Spruces, one is foreseen at another town park, Linear Park on Water Street.
 
The Friends of Linear Park, which previously presented to the committee, is moving rapidly toward completion of phase one of its restoration effort, with playground equipment shipping next week and planned for installation by the beginning of September, Amy Jeschawitz told the committee on Monday.
 
"We're ramping up for phase two … and looking to raise another $50,000," Jeschawitz said.
 
Part of that money is needed to install a covered pavilion at the park to serve a variety of needs: shelter during the rain, shade for parents watching children on the playground, party space and, potentially, outdoor yoga.
 
Natasha Judson of Spring Street's Tasha Yoga joined Jeschawitz and talked about the appeal of outdoor yoga and the need for spaces with flat surfaces and, perhaps, walls to use for orienting practitioners and to provide help with balance to those who need it.
 
Judson said that she has taught classes at the Clark's Lunder Center at Stone Hill, and a free event on Williams' Chapin Hall on the Fourth of July has attracted as many as 60 people since it began four years ago.
 
But, "Having the chance to have additional spaces to do yoga outside is always welcome," Judson said.
 
Jeschawitz said that the Friends of Linear Park, in conjunction with town hall, hopes to bring its pavilion plan to fruition as early as next year, and that it is talking with the Charles H. McCann Technical School about potentially using the project as a construction project for McCann Tech students.
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