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A giant waterslide on the Baldwin Middle School hillside Aug. 9 highlights just one small area of the many public and park spaces and fields maintained through the work of Guilford Park Foreman Tony Annicelli and his team. (Photo by Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
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What do Guilford’s town green, parks, playing fields, school athletic fields, lakes, beaches, town government building landscapes, and even Town of Guilford trash receptacles have in common? They’re all maintained under the watchful guidance and excellent leadership of Tony Annicelli, Guilford’s park foreman.
The Guilford High School Class of ’98 alum got his start working with Guilford Parks & Recreation as summer seasonal help in 1999. He continued coming back seasonally while attending Southern Connecticut State University, and, in 2004, accepted one of two newly created part-time (nine-month) positions. Five years ago, when the former park foreman opted for early retirement, Tony was selected to fill the position.
“I love this town, I love the job,” says Tony. “I like working outside. I don’t think I could sit behind a desk all day.”
That said, even with a summer-heavy crew of 10—including himself and six other full timers, together with two part-time, nine-month crew members and one part-time summer seasonal employee—taking on just about every square inch of public/playing space in Guilford is not an easy task.
Covering 43 facilities, the team mows more than 90 acres a week, maintains between 30 and 40 park and school athletic and recreational playing fields, grooms beaches, cuts back brush and invasive growth, and generally is on the go non-stop at numerous locations throughout town.
“There’s so many things we do—it’s under a huge canopy,” says Tony. “In the summer, we’re running the [tractor] beach cleaner weekly to pick up shells. We also [groom] Lake Quonnipaug at the beginning of the season.”
Every April, Tony and his team install up to 40 benthic blankets beneath Lake Quonnipaug’s swimming area to safely discourage weed growth. The work is done with assistance from the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, he notes.
“Benthic blankets are basically tarps that have weights,” Tony explains. “We pull 30 or 40 of them out into the water and it covers the whole swim area. We leave them all through April into May, and just before we open for Memorial Day, we pull them up. The blanket has holes in it; it goes down slowly and doesn’t kill any of the animal life, but it smothers the invasive weeds in about five weeks or so. It does a good job.”
Parks & Recreation Director Rick Maynard says one of Tony’s many qualities is his willingness to learn as much as he can about the latest tools, techniques, and options available to help best maintain different aspects and areas of the town.
“Tony does a great job and he’s always willing to be trained more,” says Rick, adding that, while recently visiting a turf equipment show, “I met a guy who does consulting there, and he said, ‘Tony is so good—wish I had guys like that in more communities, who are willing to learn and listen and implement things.’ Tony also does a lot of stuff at home on his own, like setting up schedules on Sunday nights. He’ll email me from vacation! He’s just very dedicated. He goes above and beyond.”
For Tony, it all comes down to teamwork.
“The most important thing, to me, is the crew that I have is fantastic. Without them, obviously nothing would get done,” he says.
In addition to support from his crew, Tony says his department is able to get the job done because of help and assistance from the team at the Department of Public Works (DPW) to the employees working for the Board of Education.
“We work together a lot with DPW; they help us out, we help them out. We get a lot of support from the Board of Ed, which also has an outdoor division that does a great job,” says Tony.
While Tony has managed for the past four years with a crew of six full-time and three part-time/seasonal workers, he’s especially grateful to the town to have been provided with a new full-time employee. In July, Tony’s team grew to include the new full-time position, approved in the town budget as part of Parks & Recreation’s strategy to resume public spaces trash collection duties.
“The town is extremely supportive. They gave us the 10th guy we needed so much,” says Tony.
Parks & Recreation’s trash collection duties are back after an eight-year hiatus, during which time the work was being done by a contractor. In addition to hiring a new position, the town also purchased a compact garbage collection truck, which arrived about two weeks ago, to join the Parks & Recreation fleet.
Tony asks residents who are out to enjoy the town’s parks and public spaces to help out by finding and using provided trash receptacles.
“Now that we’ve taken over the trash, we’re hoping that we can get everyone to follow the idea of what you take in, you take out,” says Tony. “We used to supply barrels at every field, but that makes our trash run extremely long and difficult, especially with adverse weather. We cut down from the 130 barrels with the contractor to a flat 100 barrels, and those are being kept more in parking lots. So if you walk out into one of our fields, you’re not going to find a barrel, and we’re hoping that everybody gets used to carrying their trash out to the lot. It’s still available, but we’re hoping if you carry in, you carry out.”
That said, going from a contractor arrangement where, for example, trash from barrels around the Town Green were only picked up twice a week, which created complaints, to the nimbler response now provided by Parks & Recreation has created a big benefit for the town, Maynard says. Maynard adds that residents can further help Tony’s crew keep town spaces trash-free by not only using the receptacles provided, but by sticking to the rules of recycling.
“We’re asking people to try to do a better job recycling, because we’re finding a lot of things that are not bottles and cans” or newspapers, says Maynard. “If things like Styrofoam cups, doggie waste bags, even pizza crusts go in [recycling receptacles], it’s contaminated, and everything has to go in the trash. Recycling doesn’t work unless people do it right.”
For his part, Tony stays on the lookout for input from residents to help keep their park and public space experiences excellent.
“We don’t get many complaints,” he says. “Everybody in town’s very supportive, for the most part.”
He regularly checks out some local Guilford Facebook groups, such as Simply Guilford, to monitor for concerns or comments relating to his areas of responsibility. When he recently saw a post wondering whether a picnic table at the skate park would be coming back, he brought one out there the next day.
To help save the town money, Tony’s crew builds any needed new picnic tables and maintains all of the picnic tables used in public spaces. That’s part of the winter work that gets done, once the fall maintenance, including the huge work of leaf removal, field sodding, and brush cutting, is complete.
“We bring all the picnic tables from throughout the town in for the winter. We inventory them to make sure they’re not rotted, and any we throw out, we make sure we replace,” says Tony. “Last year we built 15 extra because we knew we would have more pavilions at Jacobs Beach. We build them in-house, for under $100 a pop, instead of buying them.”
The crew also brings in and spruces up all of the sports goals set up throughout town for spring, summer, and fall play.
“We’ve been using same goals for 20 years, and as we grow, we buy more. We check them to make sure the paint’s nice and that there’s no rotting or damage issues. We also take all the nets in, so they last multiple years,” says Tony.
There’s also a lot of extras that go into the job, which keep it interesting, says Tony—from setting up hay bales in winter to create the town’s favorite sledding spot at the big hill beside Baldwin Middle School to turning that same hill into a giant water slide (with help from Guilford Fire Department) for an annual Parks & Recreation summer celebration like the one that took place on Aug. 9.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Tony says. “Four guys came in early, at 6:30 [a.m.] to set it up.”
Tony and his crew are usually on the job anytime from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, but given the vast spaces and number of places they cover, it’s a safe bet many residents more often see the results than the work taking place.
“I don’t think all of the public gets an opportunity to understand what we really do,” says Tony. “I just want people to know we’re out and about, trying to make the town as nice as we possibly can. That’s our goal, and we come in every day with that in mind.”
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