Planner gives update on Silver Lake master plan

  • Silver Lake in Athol on a June morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Lifeguard Ryder Choquette is ready for swimmers at Silver Lake in Athol on a June morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/30/2021 5:11:21 PM
Modified: 7/30/2021 5:11:26 PM

ATHOL — Planning and Development Director Eric Smith recently updated Athol’s Selectboard on plans being developed for the future of Silver Lake, a popular recreational area that for many years has served swimmers, sunbathers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts. Smith was joined by Assistant Public Works Director Paul Raskevitz and Brian Hall, chair of the town’s Open Space and Recreation Review Committee.

Smith provided some background on the planning project, particularly for newer members of the Selectboard.

“Back in October 2018,” Smith began, “Town Meeting voters actually approved $7,200 in funding for a Silver Lake master plan. We had already facilitated some discussions with the Conway School of Landscape Design, a graduate level landscape school. So, you’re getting your money’s worth because a private landscape firm would probably cost $25,000 to $30,000 for similar work.”

Smith said the students began work on a master plan following a public meeting in spring 2019 at which residents, town officials and others provided ideas on what steps should be taken to improve Silver Lake Park. The students then presented their findings, followed by a public comment period.

“Early on,” said Smith, “it was apparent there were some problems with the master plan.”

As a result, Smith said, a revised master plan was developed following consultation with other town officials, residents and the public in general. The Athol Daily News reached out to Smith on a day he happened to be working on the revised plan. He said proposed changes were the result of meeting with Hall, Raskevitz and others, followed by another public meeting.

The top three priorities of park users to come from that meeting were public safety, improved and safe pedestrian access, and maintaining the natural setting of the park.

He added that, under the leadership of DPW Director Dick Kilhart, some easily accomplished improvements — relatively speaking — have already been made at Silver Lake.

“He’s been trying to separate the pedestrian area with the cars by the pavilion area,” he said, “getting new swing sets — they’re on order — putting new trash cans out there. So, some small but important things are already being done. They’re also putting new barbecues out there.

“The problem of some areas (in the park) having smelly water will be addressed by putting in a new culvert next year.”

Raskevitz told the board steps are being taken to make locations for parking more obvious.

“The parking down below — there’s really no defined area where it turns to gravel,” he said. “So, we used some (asphalt) millings from Silver Street, and we laid out some of the millings, so you see a defined area. People park on the (asphalt) and — where it turns to gravel — hopefully, people won’t drive beyond that.

“In the interim, we’re removing trees around town and we’re going to lay some decent looking ones down until the price of guardrails comes down, because right now the cost of pressure-treated guardrail is $67 per linear foot. So, we’re going to lay some logs out to help reinforce the delineation.”

Smith told the Athol Daily News the board approved a plan to limit motor vehicle access to parts of the park, limiting those areas to pedestrians only.

Longer term community goals, he said, included the creation of clear pedestrian paths, improving overall access along the loop road around the lake, better organization of parking areas, better stormwater management to minimize erosion, improving navigation of pedestrians and motor vehicles in areas shared by both, maintaining attractiveness of the park, reduction in the growth of bacteria and the number of geese — both of which impact water quality and public health, develop new park features and amenities, and improve wayfinding or the signage around town that directs people to the park.

“We wanted (the Selectboard) to change the hours from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” he said, “versus having it be 24 hours a day. One thing they wanted was to have winter hours. They thought 9 p.m. was too late. So, we’re going to have to come back to them to approve some winter hours. We need to go back and study that further.”

Smith said he plans to develop an application for a state PARC (Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities) grant to help pay for more extensive improvements at Silver Lake. He said whatever amount he applies for, the town must first appropriate 30 percent as its share.

“That’s 70 percent state funds with a 30 percent local match,” he said. “So, for every $100,000 we would go for, we have to come up with $30,000 locally. We have to have that ready to go for the June (2022) Town Meeting vote, and we’ll have to go through the capital budget process for that.

“So, there’s more work to do, but it was nice to get the board this update. It was nice to kind of get this project out there.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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