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Avon updating its Recreation and Parks Master Plan

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

 

Weston & Sampson’s Emily Weckman and Ryan Chmielewski speak to residents at a Feb. 5 meeting. The firm is helping the town update its Recreation and Parks Master Plan.

AVON – The firm helping the town with an updated Recreation and Parks Master Plan held its first public meeting Feb. 5, gathering input on some favorite recreational assets and gauging interest in what facilities or programs residents would like to see added to the mix.

The $60,000 study, funded from the Capital Improvement Plan funds in the 2024 town budget, examines the town’s short-, medium- and longer-term facility and infrastructure needs when it comes to Parks and Recreation. The study, being conducted by Weston & Samson, involves only town-owned facilities.

The Feb. 5 meeting included hands-on exercises and general information about the study and what has been done so far.

Study consultants have been updating an inventory analysis of both indoor and outdoor recreation facilities while also beginning a public outreach process with “stakeholder groups,” including numerous sports organizations, nonprofits, tourism groups, recreational enthusiasts, community organizations, local seniors, town staff and commissioners. It’s an extensive group: The town has 62 active programs, 21 passive programs and 16 community organizations – and those numbers don’t include school uses.

Additionally, residents have been invited to fill out an online survey – an ongoing process that is open through Feb. 29 via www.research.net/r/AvonParksRec2024

At the Feb. 5 meeting, representatives from Weston & Sampson gave a brief overview before moving on to the interactive activities.

“It’s been such a long time since the last one was done,” Ryan Chmielewski, team leader and landscape architect with the firm, said, noting that the 2007 plan was also more limited in its scope.

“We try to lay out the future over the next 5, 10, 15 years of your park and rec system. When that much time elapses it’s almost starting brand new,” he added, noting that since then, there have been changes in the town’s population and a turnover – to some degree – in users.

The firm also provided a timeline of the study (see sidebar) and noted that it was important to speak to as many residents as possible.

“We’re trying to do our best to reach out because everyone has their own experiences, their own needs,” Emily Weckman, Senior Project Landscape Architect at Weston & Sampson said, later adding, “We want everyone’s uses to have a voice during this process. Your input will help us develop our strategic plan for the short, medium and long term.”

“Your participation is so important because we really strive to get a community-informed master plan. It’s not about us as designers and design professionals… It’s really identifying what your needs are,” Chmielewski added. “A lot of times when we go into these master plan studies, it’s really surprising to find out what the community is interested in in shaping the future of parks.”

Responding to a question, Chmielewski said the survey addresses which facilities and programs people use outside of town, but he noted that the study wasn’t so much about keeping up with the town’s neighbors but more focused on what is unique to Avon and what its residents need.

“Avon is unique,” he said. “You have your own amount of real estate and assets in the way they’re planned and divided and utilized right now. So, we look at that collective pool of resources and hear what the public needs to then identify if there a need to develop a piece of land or reorganize what you have to meet these needs,” he said.

“But through our profession, we are aware of many ongoing trends in that recreational department, so that will be part of our trends analysis. We always keep nationwide trends in the backs of our minds as we consider Avon,” Weckman said.

Chmielewski said there was an ebb and flow over time as some sports become popular, wane to some degree, and sometimes come back to the forefront.

“We’re starting to see cricket and the 'p' word – pickleball – pop up in a lot of communities as well,” he said, drawing as much laughter as a later comment in which a resident mentioned loving Fisher Meadows when it doesn’t flood. “So, we’re just taking it all in and really listening to what your community’s desires are.”

At the same time, the consultants acknowledged that funding is always a challenge and that there are often different groups competing for equitable uses of the same spaces.

The evening included several hands-on activities. As they entered the meeting at the Avon Free Public Library, residents were encouraged to post their “one wish to shape the Future of Avon Recreation and Parks." Suggestions included mountain biking trails, an accessible community pavilion, an indoor sports arena, indoor pool, playground on the town’s east end, and a hockey rink.

Several of the other exercises emphasized the positive attributes of Avon’s facilities.

“Avon is a very abundant community with a lot of great resources,” said Weckman, who noted that while she lived in town for a time, she hadn’t even known of some of its assets.

During the night, residents posted on several boards, first noting their favorite recreational asset. Popular answers included Fisher Meadows, Sperry Park, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Sycamore Park, and the Avon High School turf field.

From there residents were asked what about those assets made the town better, what would strengthen them, and what barriers might limit access to them. They appreciate their favorites for pure fun, a sense of family, as a place to meet new people, exercise, and a place to enjoy the town’s natural beauty.

Better sidewalks, parking, signage, more winter activities and a boathouse were among the improvements people liked to see. For barriers, many noted flooding and drainage, while others noted bike racks, linkage to other facilitates and trail systems, sidewalk infrastructure and access or scheduling for specific sporting events or teams. 

Consultants will now take the information and begin the process of evaluating what is important to town residents.

Chmielewski said the exercises, known as asset mapping, is a good way to have residents note what is important to them. It is sometimes better than opening up a dialogue, which can lead to arguments among those with different priorities, he said.

"We really want to support economic development as well because that brings more vibrant opportunities to a community, but really we want to hear what your needs are, and we did that tonight,” Chmielewski said.

From there, a discussion of the “One Wish” attendees had written on the first board broke out. Chmielewski reviewed the wishes and, in some cases, got residents to expand on them.

Attendees were respectful, but some weren’t shy about expressing disappointment that Avon didn’t have certain facilities, such as an indoor hockey rink or indoor pool.

While there is plenty of work ahead, Ruth Checko, director of Avon Recreation and Parks, felt the evening was productive, and she encourages residents to take the survey.

“I really appreciate that people took the time to come out and I hope that they continue to give us their input through the online survey,” she said.

Again, that survey can be found at www.research.net/r/AvonParksRec2024

 

Project timeline

Projection initiative: October to December of 2023 –including site visits, public outreach planning

Public Outreach: January to March of 2024 – first meeting, online survey,

Needs Assessment: February to April 2024 – analyze data and feedback, second public meeting presenting finding and taking additional ideas

Strategic Planning: May to July of 2024 develop recommendations, budget and implementation process

Final Steps: August to September 2024 – Present Recommendations. Potential approval of final master plan by Town Council

 





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