Seeds planted for Berry Park in Casco
By Dawn De Busk
CASCO — The acreage may be under snow now. But, seeds are being planted for a future public park.
Depending on the outcome at Town Meeting in June, there may be “seed money” to make some of the improvements pitched by an ad hoc committee tasked with laying out the plans for the greenspace currently coined as “Berry Park.”
At Town Meeting last year, residents purchased about 11 acres of land adjacent to the lot it already owns. The land purchase included access to Parker Pond. What is definite is that this summer the beach will be used for the American Red Cross swimming classes offered by the Casco Recreation Department.
In March, an ad hoc committee member Sam Brown provided the Casco Board of Selectmen with details of the committee’s vision and how it arrived at the shared concepts of the future park that would combine low-impact recreation and easily-maintained permaculture.
“We have dubbed it the Berry Park,” Brown said, referring to the Berry family that previously owned the land. “We had four (weekly) meetings in a row starting in mid-February. Our work was productive and swift. Everyone was encouraged to layout their ideas and dream big and to create an expression of what they wanted the park to be.”
The committee outlined short-term, mid-range and long-term goals within a 10-year timeframe, he said.
“If we can lay out a game plan that says in 10 years that is what we want for a park,” he said. “We can do it one year at a time. That is much more palatable to the town.”
Later, he said that the group took a fiscally conservative approach because any costs must be approved at Casco Town Meeting. Therefore, the goal is to produce an architect’s conceptual drawings prior to town meeting.
The next step will be to pair up the committee with a landscape architect who said she plans to do the work partially pro-bono and some at cost, according to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton.
“The new park would be a classic park,” Brown said. “We would like to import rocks and include walking paths, benches and picnic tables.”
Another feature to be included in the park is permaculture — low-maintenance plants and trees that are native to Maine. Brown described a modest orchard of apple trees and high-bush blueberries as some of the possibilities. Later on, items like a tool shed and a water fountain might be added, he said. Another detail the committee agreed upon is “some sort of easement to link the Memorial School Park and the new piece of land,” Brown said.
At the Memorial Park, there are facilities for recreational sports such as baseball, Frisbee golf and even bocce, also spelled bocci. Meanwhile, the new park would be more ideal for having picnics, enjoying the greenery and spending time at the beach or in the water — since the park will provide public access to Parker Pond.
“We want to work with someone who can draw out the design of the park,” Brown said.
Morton had just the person for that job.
“I met with a landscape architect. She is anxious to meet with the committee and to work on the project,” Morton said, adding that get-together could take place “sometime in the next two or three weeks.”
Chairman Holly Hancock asked if the committee was hoping to have something for town meeting this year.
The short answer was yes.
“The community would like to have a vision of what the park would look like. If we have a rendering,” that would be helpful, Brown said. “We have to emphasize the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach.”
At this point, there were no cost estimates for importing rocks, building trails or buying the trees and plants for the permaculture garden. That will come later. With a 10-year plan for the park to take shape, the beginnings are up to the residents.
“The best way to get guidance and support from the town is to show them what we want,” Brown said.
That is why the landscape architect is key to this project, he said.
Selectman Thomas Peaslee asked, “Is the directive of the committee to keep this a low-maintenance park?”
Brown said, “The idea of permaculture does work in that direction. Folks (on the committee) are aware of the importance of being fiscally conservative. It has to be affordable. It has to provide the greatest use to the public.”
“We haven’t got too deep into maintenance costs involved,” Brown said. “Thoughtful plantings of trees, imported rocks as landscape features, eventually a water fountain and picnic areas.”
Posy Gillespie, another committee member, pointed out that eventually the park be usable during all the seasons in Maine.
“It would be a year-round park. It would be a spot for people to go for picnic and if they had a kayak, possibly put it in the lake,” she said.
“It is a central piece for snowmobilers to connect with the rest of the world. They have been doing that for years,” Gillespie said. “It is a beautiful sound to hear snowmobiles going across the lake at night. I don’t snowmobile. But, I know they are enjoying it: Getting outdoors and connecting with nature. You can have ice-skaters on the lake and you can go ice fishing on the lake.”
“So, it does encompass a 12-months-a-year park,” she said.
Naturally optimistic, Brown ended on an up-note.
“If it is done right it will enhance the community,” he said. “It is central to the town. It will be a real showpiece.”