BERLIN – A local consulting group outlined plans for trails and wildlife viewing meant to make the most of the town’s newest natural amenity, Berlin Falls Park.
Jim Rapp and Dave Wilson of Conservation Community Consulting shared their vision for Berlin Falls Park with officials during the Sept. 11 Berlin Town Council meeting. They see the park as the perfect setting for wildlife viewing and recommend the town highlight its habitats and species for visitors.
“What we were tasked with was to take a look at the park, to draw out its natural features,” Wilson said. “To think about the things that we think folks would really like in the park, what they like in other parks.”
Wilson said that during 14 visits he and Rapp reviewed the site, identifying its natural features that would be attractive to visitors. The extensive property, which includes three ponds, is home to numerous species of wildlife. Various species of ducks and turtles call the site home, as do otters.
Wilson suggested the town enhance the ponds by nurturing plants growing along their edges, particularly willow oaks, as they’d help shade the water. That will discourage algae growth.
“You’d rather have the trees than the algae,” he said.
Wilson said basking platforms could also be added to the ponds to provide resident turtles with places to sit in the sun. The park has one of the largest painted turtle populations on the Lower Shore, he said.
According to Wilson, the wetlands in the woods at Berlin Falls Park have been degraded by motorized vehicle use but could be restored.
“Right now they’re sort of a ditch,” he said, “not really doing their jobs.”
As far as enhancing the park as a wildlife watching area, Wilson suggested the installation of interpretive panels — to inform visitors of what they’re seeing — as well as the addition of wildlife blinds.
“You create a blind that’s just for watching animals,” he said.
Rapp said the park, which has been visited by birdwatchers in the past, is home to 180 species of birds.
“That’s as good as a national park,” he said. “Right here in Berlin.”
Wilson and Rapp also suggested the creation of three short trails at the park. They said one could be located around each of the ponds. Trails around the two larger ponds would each be .56 mile while the small pond could sit at the center of a .43 mile trail.
Another possibility for the park would be a nature-themed play area for children estimated to cost $75,000.
In all, Conservation Community Consulting’s plans for the park would cost roughly $276,000. The report Wilson and Rapp submitted outlines the cost of each aspect of their plan as well as potential for outside funding sources. While some things, such as bird boxes, could likely be donated, other things, such as the playground, would likely need to be funded by the town.
“The budget in our mind is something that needs to be rationally based,” Wilson said. “It needs to be something that other people can pay for.”
Rapp stressed that Berlin Falls Park was already a popular destination that could be enhanced to become an even bigger draw for the town.
“The beauty of the place is it’s already there and it’s got a lot of infrastructure in place because of its former use,” he said. “It’s building on top of that, adding icing to the cake. It could go a long way. It’s already becoming a beloved place.”
Mayor Gee Williams said the report would be reviewed by staff as well as by the advisory committee officials planned to form in the coming months.
“We’re very encouraged that this was our first formal presentation because the numbers, as serious as they are, don’t look daunting or unachievable and the uses are I believe the ones that are the most commonly supported and enthusiastically supported of all the possibilities,” Williams said.