BERLIN – A new park with a green focus could provide many benefits to the town of Berlin, supporters said last week during a Berlin Town Council work session organized to assess the idea.
Possible futures for the land known as Nally Commons, located near the intersection of Main Street and Harrison Avenue and previously prominent citizen Frederick Brueckmann’s home, emerged at a Thursday evening Berlin Mayor and Council work session, with strong support for an environmental park.
Ideas thrown around at the work session are still malleable, with no decisions made except to continue pursuing the property.
“We haven’t pigeon-holed anything,” said Joe Hill, a member of the Berlin Planning Commission who has worked with Nally on finding a new purpose for the property.
The 7.85-acre property includes a house with a history, which was built in 1835 by John Dirickson, with portions of the house dating to 1898.
The site should be preserved for environmental, cultural, and historic reasons, supporters said. The Berlin Comprehensive Plan under development calls for more open space, which this property would make a large contribution toward.
The woods onsite are home to diverse species, including red tailed hawks and two types of owl, according to speakers at the work session.
A park on that site would also provide more walkable space and allow residents of the well-populated area to reach downtown on foot or by bicycle more quickly.
Stakeholders evinced strong support for environmental demonstration projects on the property, such as a created wetland to filter stormwater run-off and host native species.
“Stormwater ponds don’t have to be a big round hole in the ground,” said Berlin Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.
The town would have the chance to mesh the park with the new, three-year Grow Berlin Green initiative, an approach by three environmental organizations focused on Berlin.
The house on the site has also been proposed as a regional headquarters for environmental groups Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT) and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP).
Parks Commission Director Patricia Duffendach hailed the possible new park as an excellent addition to the town’s park collection.
“We were tearing our hair out trying to figure out where we were going to get more parkland,” said Duffendach.
A new park could include a demonstration farm based on Berlin’s agricultural tradition and the wooded area could offer birdwatching opportunities, Duffendach said.
While Dave Wilson, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, does not see much birding potential at the site, he hailed the site’s biological integrity.
“Given the bucolic nature of the town, it’s a really good biological asset,” said Wilson.
Traditionally, when Berlin expands, the town adds more buildings and paved areas, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said. This park could be the beginning of a greenway around Berlin, he suggested.
The property lies within the Arts and Entertainment District and could host art contests or sculptures along walking trails, said Kate Patton, director of LSLT.
The park could do more than enhance the life of the town, with nature and eco-tourism already strong attractors for the region.
Birdwatchers, Williams pointed out, are willing to travel some distance to good birding sites.
“They like to sleep well and eat well,” said Williams.
This is also an opportunity for Berlin to retain mature trees, said Patton, referring to the fact clusters of mature trees benefit wildlife, ward off heat in the summer and enhance the aesthetic of the town.
Hill said a new park at that site would increase visitors to Berlin, extend Main Street north and improve the presentation of the town to visitors.
The onsite parking lot could encourage people to leave their cars there and walk or bike through town, Hill speculated.
A traffic circle could eventually be installed at the Main Street and Harrison Avenue intersection, slowing traffic and improving an awkward junction. This new road pattern would not interfere with the railroad tracks, State Highway Administration Engineer Wayne Snowdon said.
One amenity the park will not host is a new library building. In fact, no new library building is planned for Berlin.
“They’re not interested at all,” Williams said of Worcester County. “That’s a rumor. It’s become an urban myth here.”
The concept was lauded by supporters.
“We need to come together and really step up to do something in town right now and this could be it,” said Patton.
If the site can be purchased through a partnership of sorts, Hill said the potential is limitless.
“I think this could be a very important piece of the puzzle to set up how we see the rest of the town,” said Hill. “Your imagination is the only thing that limits it.”