Pond Street Recreation Complex GrowsDec 30, 2020 02:48PM ● By Grace Allen
Walking and biking trails. Kayaking, fishing, bird watching. New playing fields. These are just some of the possibilities for the soon-to-be acquired land abutting the Pond Street recreation complex in Norfolk.
The transfer of the approximately 43 acres of land belonging to the Department of Correction was approved by the state legislature in September. At the 2018 Town Meeting, residents approved the purchase of 5 acres of the parcel. At this past November’s Town Meeting, residents voted to allocate up to $100,000 of Community Preservation Act money to purchase the additional 38 acres. The money will cover the cost of the land--$17,200--plus surveying and legal costs.
“This is a real win,” said Ann Proto, the recreation department’s director. “Open recreation land in Norfolk is valued at $15,000 an acre.”
The popular Pond Street complex consists of about 21 acres, with soccer and baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, a pavilion and playground, skatepark, volleyball sand court, and a walking trail.
The new parcel will essentially double the amount of land available for passive and active recreation in the complex. Of the 43 acres, it’s estimated that approximately 20 acres are wetlands and their buffer zones.
Part of the parcel backs up to Stop River, opening up possibilities for water-based recreation, says David Turi, Chairman of the Conservation Commission, which is collaborating with the Recreation Commission to determine the best use of the land.
“There is great potential here,” he noted.
Prior to the pandemic, the complex’s grass fields were in heavy use eight months a year with weekday practices and weekend games.
“Our fields get a lot of use during a normal year,” said Proto. “Maintaining grass fields that get a lot of use can be challenging. Having the ability to rotate playing surfaces so more extensive repairs, such as leveling, can be done is ideal. In the long run this improves conditions and increases the playability of all the fields, but it’s hard to do this when you don’t have enough fields as it is.”
In 2017, the town published its Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) after surveying residents. Priorities included hiking and biking trails, along with turf fields and a town swimming pool.
“With the expansion of Pond Street, the request for more trails can be addressed in the shorter term,” explained Proto. “If you’re talking about more fields, that’s a large capital item and probably a few years away.”
Turi, who also serves on the Community Preservation Committee, says the project was a perfect fit for CPA funds, which can be used for open space and recreation, affordable housing, and historic preservation.
“Norfolk was fortunate to jump on the CPA bandwagon when it was first initiated,” he said. “So the money is there for these types of things.”
Cyndi Andrade, the chair of the Community Preservation Committee, says committee members saw the value of adding 43 acres of open space, at a much discounted price, to the existing parcel at Pond Street.
“All monies expended for projects under CPA must be approved by Town Meeting vote, and any monies not spent at the completion of the project return back to Norfolk’s CPA account to be available for future projects,” she explained. “This acquisition is a great example of the application of CPA for a recreation and open space project that is unique for its many qualities.”
Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk resident, was the architect of the bill to transfer the land from the DOC to the town.
“This land will allow Norfolk to expand our recreation fields, create nature trails, and safeguard the ecostructure of the surrounding wetlands,” said Dooley in a statement. “Being able to see it signed into law by Governor Baker was incredibly rewarding. I can’t wait to see how the town utilizes this land for the enjoyment of residents of all ages.”
Will Rigdon, Chair of the Norfolk Recreation Committee, worked with Rep. Dooley for the past four years to see the land transfer through to fruition.
“Thank you to the residents of Norfolk, Representative Dooley, the members of the CPC and Conservation Commission, and everyone else involved for their help and support in assisting us with getting this initiative to this point,” said Rigdon in an email. “The Recreation Commission and I are beyond excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work collaboratively to explore how to best utilize this land to expand and improve the recreational and open space opportunities available for residents of our community.”
Proto also acknowledged Dooley’s efforts for the town, adding, “Rep. Dooley really did work hard at keeping this bill active, taking it on as a priority. We’re indebted to him and reaping the benefits of his hard work.”
Before the community starts to see changes at the complex, logistical issues, like regulatory paperwork and surveying, will have to be completed. Both Proto and Turi, however, are hopeful that by summertime, the first efforts at a trail system will have begun.
If there’s a positive in the pandemic, it’s that people have become more aware of recreational spaces and more appreciative of local options to get outdoors for exercise and to de-stress. That will likely continue when COVID-19 is finally behind us. It would seem, then, that the Pond Street complex expansion is well-timed.
“People are coming from other areas to use our recreation facilities and trails in town,” said Turi. “I don’t remember any of that before the pandemic. People are taking advantage of all the opportunities to get outside. We’ve developed the Campbell Forest, we’re going after Lind Farm, and by growing the Pond Street complex we will just continue that progress and that focus on the outdoors. It’s very exciting.”