WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Planning & Conservation Director Valerie Gingrich recently presented the Board of Selectmen with a draft of the town’s Open Space & Recreation Plan, which must be updated every five years and submitted to the state.
Gingrich began by highlighting several of the open space and recreation accomplishments the town has made since the current plan was created in 2015:
- constructed Yentile Farm Recreational Facility
- created the Wilmington Dog Park
- added a small playground at Murray Hill development
- worked with Eagle Scouts on numerous projects to benefit town, including a boardwalk to connect trails at the Town Forest
- uploaded maps of town trails to town website
- updated land stewardship handbook
Gingrich explained that the current Open Space & Recreation Plan Committee was formed in the later half of 2019. The Committee began its work by taking a deep dive into the 2015 plan, determining whether any of the goals, objectives and action items needed to be updated.
Next, the Committee put together a community-wide online survey, which ran from September to November 2019. The survey garnered 478 respondents.
Key survey takeaways included:
- Respondents were most familiar with the town’s playgrounds and Town Beach, while least familiar with town trails and picnic areas.
- Respondents most wanted trails and playgrounds for amenities.
- Respondents most used the trails (65%) and playgrounds (40%) of all the amenities in other communities.
- 62% of respondents were unaware of the town trail maps.
- One respondent said the town needs a dog park, which re-enforced that the town needs to do a better job of making residents aware of what it already offers.
The Committee then held a series of public meetings to fine tune objectives and action items, while the plan’s three goals stayed mainly the same as the 2015 plan.
The three major goals included:
- Provide opportunities for open space appreciation and environmentally friendly walking and biking trails.
- Balance resources to meet open space demands and provide a variety of open space amenities for a full range of users and interests.
- Protect town’s natural resources.
Some of the specific action items Gingrich highlighted include:
- Creating a signage plan for our trails and trail heads.
- Coordinate with Middlesex Canal Commission on a grant application to construct a bridge over the Maple Meadow Brook Aqueduct at Town Park. This would connect Town Park all the way up to Patches Pond, crossing Butters Row — 2.5 miles of trail.
- Hold localized clean-up days based in neighborhoods, rather than — or in addition to — a town-wide clean-up day.
- Improve accessibility of existing open spaces by correcting shortcomings found in a recent assessment conducted by the town’s Commission on Disabilities.
- Education the community by identifying appropriate locations and themes for educational signs.
- Acquire additional open space through donations, private development & other means.
- Complete the town’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP plan).
In late 2020, the committee conducted a second community survey, which resulted in 280 respondents. Two of the key takeaways from this survey include: (1) an overwhelmingly number of respondents wanted to see the bridge built over the Maple Meadow Brook Aqueduct if grant funding was available, and (2) respondents were much more likely to use town trails if easily accessible maps and clear trail signs existed.
The final plan will be submitted to the state for review and approval after resident feedback is reviewed. The approved plan will make the town eligible for grants, including the type of grant it will seek to build the pedestrian bridge at Town Park.
Gingrich noted that her department handled the heavy lifting, along with the committee, and did not hire a consultant, as some other communities have done.
Selectmen thanked Gingrich and her committee for their work, and offered comments on some of the goals and objectives.
“I like the idea of a localized clean-up day,” said Selectman Kevin Caira. “I would rather go up and down my own neighborhood… I think that’s a great idea. You should run with that. I see people walking with a stick picking up trash in my neighborhood now. A coordinated effort would be great.”
In response to a question from Caira, Gingrich noted that more trails will soon be available in the “Garden of Eden” area of town, where the old golf course was located. There will be a small parking area off of Green Meadow Drive, where the trail links up with a trill at Mill Road, which links up to the Murray Hill Development. She noted the three subdivisions have created a “nice network of trails.”
“I, too, agree we should try to localize the clean-up days by neighborhood,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “We need to think of ways to incentivize folks to get involved. Town can provide bags… Wilmington is super competitive. Maybe if we can make it into some sort of contest. The street or neighborhood that picks up the most gets a prize. [Neighborhood clean-up days] would be a nice touch in addition to our existing clean-up efforts. I think it could have some success.”
“The biggest thing I heard tonight was signage,” added Selectman Gary DePalma. “Where are the trails? Where do they go? But now knowing you can pull them up on an online map, and if we have signs out there, they’ll be using them more…. Thank you and your staff for what you’re doing.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull also extended his appreciation to Gingrich and her committee.
“There are certainly a lot of gems around town in terms of places you can go. I’ve spent a fair amount of time up in the Town Forest, but I don’t recall ever running into anybody there,” said Hull. “The other piece that Valerie touched up that would be great to see is the connection on the Middlesex Canal. The trail literally goes from Patches Pond to where it stops at the canal. To make that final connection would be a great feature.”