The Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association will present the Founder's Memorial Park Ad Hoc Committee with its 2009 Community Development Award. Atop the park they helped create are committee members (from left) Jerry Brophy, Barbara Guenther, Parks & Recreation Director Vicki Duffy, and Town Planner Christine Nelson. Other committee members not pictured are Selectman Bill Peace, Lolita Fontes, and Ken Soudan. (Photo by Becky Coffey/The Harbor News
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From Dump to Park: A Town Project Wins Recognition
Successful recycling and reuse of a marginal town property while using a minimal budget, town staff, and volunteers is the achievement for which the town's Founder's Memorial Park Committee will be recognized on Friday, Dec. 4. On that date, the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association (CCAPA) will award the committee its 2009 Community Development Award. The proof of the project's success can be found on any weekend day. On a recent fall Sunday, the park on the hill had two birdwatchers scanning the marsh with their powerful binoculars, a group of town teens sitting on the stone wall sharing conversation with friends, two painters seated at easels trying to capture in paint the wide vista of the Connecticut River that lay before them, and still others who'd just come to enjoy the view. And while these residents were enjoying Founder's Park's assets, other residents were delivering leaves they'd spent the afternoon raking to the town's leaf composting site on the opposite side of the former dump's hilltop. "The park is so well used for its peaceful character and the vista. It's such a jewel to have in the center of town and on the water," said Committee Chairman Barbara Guenther. The Founder's Memorial Park site at the end of Coulter Street combines land donated to the town in 1993 by members of the Clarke family (descendants of the original settlers of the Saybrook Colony), a town-owned former railroad right-of-way, and the now-closed town landfill. It includes 8.1 acres of tidal marsh and 13.1 acres of dry land above the old railbed and abuts North Cove on one side and the 140-acre Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge on the other. When the committee was first appointed, park development, while a goal, still lay in the distance. That's because they committee learned that the state Department of Environmental Protection had never officially closed the landfill and a new state permit was needed before the town could open a leaf composting operation on the western portion of the landfill site. Working with town and state staff, the committee overcame these hurdles. Then it entered the next stage-park planning and development. It was in December 2007 that the Town of Old Saybrook voted to use $43,925 of budget surplus to buy materials to support development of the park. These funds were added to donations received for the project to honor the original park's land donor, Robert Clarke, after he died in April 2007. Clarke's donated parcel at the base of the landfill hill was the core around which the committee planned the current Founder's Park. Re-use, recycling, volunteers, and in-kind services were the methods the committee relied upon to keep park development costs low. Using stockpiled road millings from other town road projects, Public Works Director Larry Bonin and the crews gradually built up the road to serve the park. Brush and weeds were cleared. And compost from the town's adjacent composting operation was spread across the park surface for the park's plantings. And to define the park's edge-and provide a seat from which to view the Connecticut River-the crew built a rock wall at the edge of the hill. Crews of citizen volunteers helped the committee clear and clean the site, plant the grounds, and continue today to take charge of maintaining the park's garden. Alicia Betty of the Trust for Public Land first recommended that the group receive this award recognizing a project, program, or initiative that bolsters the social and economic welfare of the community. "This project was wonderful because it was re-using a piece of land and transforming it into a community asset that everyone can use," said Betty. "That type of coming together through volunteer efforts should be recognized."