Master Plan Stresses Need For Historic Themes In Parks

BERLIN – Berlin’s three parks should echo the town’s historic downtown to present a sense of identity and cohesion, according to a parks master plan presented this week.

Steve Engel and Frank Kea of Vista Design offered a new vision for Berlin’s three parks that should improve usability and aesthetics and make Berlin’s dedicated open space a cohesive part of the town.

The new vision was reached partly in response to a citizen survey on the parks, which yielded only 69 responses.

“It sounds small but it’s a pretty good sample,” said Kea. “They were reasonably consistent, too.”

A lot of people said they did not even realize the town had three parks, Kea reported. While people know about Stephen Decatur Park and Henry Park, few realize that the open strip of grass in front of the power plant, known as Burbage Park, is dedicated open space.

“It’s a very, very narrow space so what do you do with it?” Kea asked.

Kea proposed setting Burbage Park up as an urban open space, which people could use for reading or meeting friends. The addition of a small bandstand could also be used for events.

Landscaping, a low sign, decorative elements that echo downtown decorative elements, such as the same light standards, or the use of brick paving would all contribute toward showing the park as an asset to the town.

While Kea said that the design shown for Burbage Park was only a concept and is not the only way to do it, he presented several key elements that would identify the space as a park and make it attractive for visitors and residents, such as trees along the power plant fence to soften and buffer that facility. Hedges, brick walkways, benches and attractive trash receptacles could also be added.

Some people did not realize that Henry Park is a public park with many thinking that the space was dedicated to the adjoining community, the survey revealed.

With the park’s location on Route 113, the town has an opportunity to tie the park in visually to the town through theme elements related to the historic downtown, such as brick columns added to the existing fencing.

Kea suggested additional seating, a more organized area for children to play in, new lighting standards like those downtown and a path system throughout. The large open field north of the basketball courts needs to be landscaped, perhaps ringed with trees to create an oval shaped field, which will define that area as public space. The field is large enough for small-scale football games, Kea said.

The low end of the field, bordering a ditch, receives a lot of water, and could be transformed into a wetland, which would be a buffer between the park and adjacent businesses.

“We could actually create a small flood plain area which would serve to treat stormwater,” Kea said.

Stephen Decatur Park, the largest and most involved open space in Berlin, was a more difficult task, with a lot of things already on site. Tripoli St., as a through street, also complicates matters.

Kea considered how to distribute parking more evenly and create a focal point. Turning the street into an oval loop, with open space on the interior of the loop, and parallel parking, would take care of both issues. He envisions a large bandstand at the top of the oval, to anchor the park. The oval loop would also slow traffic, Kea said.

The children’s play area also needs an overhaul in terms of design, since there is nowhere for parents or caregivers to sit and watch children play. Kea proposed a pinwheel-shaped play area with adults sitting in the middle.

Open grassy areas in the southwest corner of the park could be used for many different kinds of organized activities, like horseshoes, Kea suggested.

The benches, brick, light standards and other details should be the same in all three parks.

While tasked with finding a way to link the three parks via a greenway, or along local waterways, that effort went nowhere, according to Kea.

“Basically, it was impossible. There are lots of impediments along the way,” said Kea.

The town would have to buy a lot of property to make that happen, he said.

Town sidewalks do connect the parks, he said. There could be more ways to find the parks through signs or theming through using brick pavers, for example, in connecting the three open spaces.

The next step is for the Berlin Parks Commission to go over the plan and come back to the council with recommendations on small0scale projects within reach of the regular budget, said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

“It wouldn’t take a lot of money to make a big impact on a small area…it would be a shame to let this sit without taking some action on what is doable in our budget,” he said.

The parks plan is money well spent, said Parks Commission Chair Patricia Duffendach.