July 16, 2008

Work to Revamp Hedgehog Park to Start Soon

By James A. Kimble, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jul. 16--SALEM -- Trees at Hedgehog Park will soon be cut down to create a brighter beach.

"There's not a lot of light that comes into the beach and after you get around lunchtime, it gets behind the trees. Then your beach day kind of becomes a shade day," Recreation Director Christopher Dillon told selectmen on Monday.

The tree-cutting is a first step in plans to revamp the 28.6-acre park on Route 38, which is making a comeback with residents after years of declining use.

Recreation officials are developing plans to bring new tennis and volleyball courts there in 2009, along with a long-awaited skate park first planned for the Field of Dreams park in 2004.

Dillon also wants to gradually expand the 29-by-45-foot beach area another 100 feet over the course of several years.

Although few things have been done so far to improve the park, more people are going there this year.

Parking fees collected for Hedgehog Park so far have nearly doubled the total of $1,074 collected last season, Dillon said yesterday.

So far, Salem has collected $2,145 in parking permit fees from Hedgehog. Selectman Everett McBride said this week the rise in park use might be a result of "stay-cations" -- people choosing to enjoy local parks and amenities instead of bearing the cost of travel in a sagging economy.

One minor change has obviously brought more people to Hedgehog in recent weeks: keeping the gate open 24 hours a day. Town Manager Jonathan Sistare said leaving the gate open is the only real major change to the park so far.

"I believe it's probably a combination of all those things," Dillon said of the park's increased use. "It's the fact (the park) is in the news, so people are aware of it. ... It's more inviting and people are more willing to go there."

Dillon said people can expect to see engineering work being done on the property in the days ahead, part of which is marking the trees that will be cut.

Aside from clearing trees to brighten the beach area, trees near the overflow parking lot will be cut to make way for the skate park.

Next week, a new coat of paint will be applied to what's called "the warming station," a changing room which also has a large fireplace once used to warm people who went ice skating on man-made Hedgehog Pond. Dillon said plans are to replace that building in 2014.

He said other amenities at the park are slowly being traded for new equipment. The 15 picnic tables on the property are gradually being traded for steel reinforced ones, along with eight barbecue grills, Dillon said.

He said his goal is to revitalize the park with as little tax impact as possible. He suggested a walking trail could be widened as part of an Eagle Scout project. And he is pursuing grants from Land and Water Conservation funds and the United States Tennis Association.

"I want to do as much of the project as possible (on grants) so it can be of little impact to the taxpayer," he said.


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