Petersham officials seek input from residents on new Open Space Plan

Brooks Woodland Preserve is one of the locations that will be included in Petersham's updated Open Space & Recreation Plan, which will be discussed at a public meeting this Saturday.

Brooks Woodland Preserve is one of the locations that will be included in Petersham's updated Open Space & Recreation Plan, which will be discussed at a public meeting this Saturday. PHOTO CREDIT/M. ARDUSER COURTESY OF THE TRUSTEES

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 01-31-2024 5:00 PM

PETERSHAM – Officials are eager to hear from residents at a Saturday forum on what priorities they think should be included in an updated Open Space and Recreation Plan.

The meeting will take place on Feb. 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the lower level of Town Hall. Anyone unable to attend in person will have the opportunity to participate remotely.

Anne Cavanaugh, chair of the Open Space & Recreation Committee, said this will be the first time the plan has been re-examined since 2014, and this update had been put on hold due to the COVID pandemic.

Saturday’s meeting will be facilitated by a trio of graduate students from the Conway School of Landscape Design. The students are working on updating the open space plan, including updating chapters, maps and illustrations required by the state. The town used a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Energy & Environmental Affairs to secure the services of the Conway School. Cavanaugh said the focus of the students’ work is on ecological and social sustainability.

“With their help,” said Cavanaugh in a previous press release, “our community will be ready to assess our landscape within the context of climate change and make recommendations for needed open space and new recreational opportunities.”

One of Saturday’s topics of discussion will likely be what to do with the parcel of land once home to the Nichewaug Inn & Academy. Demolition of these buildings in the center of town was completed in September 2022.

Cavanaugh said a survey, which included several questions regarding the future of the Nichewaug site, was mailed to residents and made available online. The survey garnered 209 responses, according to Cavanaugh.

“We got a range of responses,” she said, “everything from leave it open as an open field – treat it as an extension of the common – to perhaps developing gardens, walkways. Something that has always been there that will be renewed is a community garden. Also, offering space to the library, particularly in terms of the septic system it needs.”

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Other options for the site mentioned in the survey, said Cavanaugh, are installation of pickleball courts and “even senior housing came up. I think we will discuss any number of creative ideas for the place, knowing we’re not a jurisdictional body as the Open Space & Recreation Committee; we’re an aspirational one. Our plan is meant to set aspirational goals for the next seven years. But I have no idea what the seven-year plan might be for that space.”

Cavanaugh said another aspect of the 2014 plan that will be re-examined is increased connections of existing trails.

“One project that was started with the last Open Space & Recreation Plan is the Bob Marshall Trail in North Petersham,” she said.

While work on the trail is underway, Cavanaugh said it has yet to be completed, adding, “a commitment to that would be wonderful.”

Cavanaugh explained that the goal of allowing people to circumnavigate the town via a series of trails had been a goal of previous OSRC Chair Bob Clark. She said the committee wants to look at possibly extending or improving trails through properties owned by Harvard Forest, public lands owned by land trusts or large organizations such as the Trustees of Reservations. Part of the Bob Marshall Trail, which is just over two miles long, already lies within Harvard Forest.

“The goal is to connect it from the Gould Wood Lot at Harvard Forest to the Harvard Tom Swamp Tract at Harvard Pond,” said Cavanaugh.

Anyone who would like to attend Saturday’s meeting remotely should go to https://www.mytowngovernment.org/01366, scroll down to “Open Space& Recreation Committee,” and click on “Details and Agenda.” This will connect with the Zoom address for the meeting.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.