With some members of the public calling for the Town Forest to be transformed into a community park, Town Manager Kevin Smith said the Town is having ongoing discussions about how the property should be managed.
“Right now, it remains in the hands of the Conservation Commission. Any work done in the Town Forest has to be done in coordination and cooperation with them,” he said.
Andrew C. Mack Sr., who helped his father deed the nearly 12-acre parcel to the Town in 1984, said he would like to see the Town Forest opened up and managed as a natural classroom for students.
The Londonderry Trailways and volunteer Kent Allen have been working to clean up the trails in the Town Forest, clearing out invasive plant species and debris, in an effort to make the area more accessible for all residents.
“I approve of what he’s doing,” Mack said of Allen’s efforts. “I was surprised how nice the stretch of the road along the Town Forest became when he just cleaned it up and moved a few rocks back from the road. It’s really pleasing to the eye.”
Opening up the trails and maintaining a diversity of both wooded and open, grassy spaces in the Town Forest are important to Mack because he thinks doing so will help residents reconnect with nature.
“One of the Town Forest’s greatest features is the fact it could be used as a classroom, not only for the schools nearby, but also for the rest of us – to return to nature,” he said. “So many of us are drawn away from nature. This should be attractive enough to draw us back.”
Mack added that it’s “important the Town Forest be open enough for people to walk into any part of it,” and said cleared areas could be used to bring in new plants.
“Right now, there’s a heavy overstory. We won’t see much until some of that is removed. I think we’ll find more there than we realize,” he said.
Smith said it’s possible the Town could send to the ballot a warrant article to transfer authority over the Town Forest from the Conservation Commission to the town manager, noting there was such a warrant article two years ago that didn’t pass.
“Frankly, it was before its time,” he said.
In addition to trails in the Town Forest, Mack said he hopes to see the Town invest in paving a number of trails linking neighborhoods throughout Londonderry to the Town Center, and in extending the sidewalk on Pillsbury Road past Moose Hill School to Wilshire Drive.
The sidewalk extension, which Mack thinks should be a high priority for the Town, could potentially be included on the Town’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) or could be funded with Expendable Maintenance Trust Funds, according to Smith.
Although Smith couldn’t estimate the cost without an engineering study, he said it wouldn’t be cheap.
“If you look at the kind of money the Rail Trail cost to just pave the trail area, there’s the cost of pavement, engineering and granite curbing,” he said.
Another project Mack hopes to see completed, which would also require an engineering study to determine potential costs, is the construction of a bridge across the wetlands behind Londonderry Middle School to allow for connectivity between Wimbledon Drive, Woodbine Drive and the schools in the Town Center.
Smith said erecting a footbridge through the wetland, which is School District property, would likely be funded through a warrant article.
Additionally, Smith noted that when the Town Council recently considered a presentation on improving the Town Common area, Councilor Tom Freda advised the Council could form a trust fund for improvements to the Town Center.
Mack said when the Town invests in making the trails leading from King Phillip Drive behind Town Hall and the trails leading to neighborhoods behind the schools accessible to all residents – young and old, strollers, kids on bikes – residents will be connected to the Town Common, and “then it really becomes the Center of Town.”
Mack proposes shifting local efforts from extending the Rail Trail to improving trails connecting neighborhoods to the center of Town.
“There will be a time when the Rail Trail becomes a worthwhile cause. It is not now, when our recreational focus needs to be in getting many of our young folk into the center of Town for the recreational fields, library, schools, churches, the wooded park and to the many activities that will increasingly take place here,” said Mack, who gave Londonderry Trailways a $5,000 gift to help with initial Rail Trail paving. “Most access to the Rail Trail will be by automobile. Realistically, it does not serve the health or pleasure of our young folk at all, nor their families.”
Trailways spokesperson Pollyann Winslow said she thinks Mack has a great vision, and that having walking paths where there are no sidewalks is a wonderful asset to the community.
“We are aware of these wishes, and I can say I think the bottom line here is if the community wishes to expand the trail system, or to improve it, which might mean paving some of the trails in the community, then the Trailways would welcome hearing from the community, so those ideas could be pursued,” she said.
Winslow noted there has been some concern among property owners in the neighborhoods Mack proposes connecting to the center of Town with accessible trails, that the improved access could create safety and security issues for those homeowners.
“We have not been approached by neighborhoods who wish to have such trails,” Winslow said, noting the group doesn’t designate where trails in town will be improved and created, but rather responds to the desires of the community. “We are not associated with any governmental organization, we are strictly volunteers willing to give our time to help maintain trails in the community. If someone wishes to have a trail and wants to provide space and ask for assistance creating it, Trailways would, of course, consider the proposal.”