BRATTLEBORO - After five years of fundraising and planning the town is ready to open up its newest recreation fields at the West River Park on Route 30.
Just after 4 p.m., on Monday, Sept. 10, the youth soccer and field hockey programs will hold practices on the new fields.
Supporters of the park are still trying to raise the money for fencing, lights and other field infrastructure, but when the first cleats dig their way into the newly established turf on the 10.7-acre field, it will mark an important milestone in the town's long drive to build a new park.
"It's going to be great to see kids playing down there," said Ben Underhill, head of fundraising for the West River Park Committee.
The town began looking for new space for recreation fields in 2007 after Fulflex, a company with a large flat field on Putney Road, decided to close its fields to town use.
In 2008 Town Meeting Representatives approved a $250,000 bond to pay for acquisition of the West River land with the agreement that a committee would raise the additional money needed to develop the property.
The total project will eventually cost about $1 million, and more than $700,000 has already been raised to get the town to this point.
Underhill said the committee needs to raise more than $300,000 to complete the project, and the committee is working on a variety of grants to help them get there.
He said the big push was to get the
"I feel confident that we are going to be able to get the rest of it," he said.
The rest of the fundraising will be ongoing, and he said the town will purchase what it needs as the money is raised.
The most expensive item, lighting for the softball fields, could still be years away, and it is possible softball games will only be played in natural light in the spring.
Underhill said he expects the local community to come through with funding as the fields open up and families see the new facility.
There is now direct access to the West River for boaters, and Underhill said with the fields in use it is going to be easier to ask contributors to support the project.
Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte said the town is warning bicyclists and motorists to use caution near the entrance to the park as everybody gets used to the new park.
The town built an irrigation system at the new site and Lolatte said town officials have been keeping a close watch on the fields over the summer.
Earlier this summer Lolatte was not ready to promise that the park would open this fall, but the fields are in good shape and she said everyone was looking forward to getting on the fields this week.
The town is planning a more formal grand opening and celebration in the spring.
"The grass looks good and we're going to open the gates Monday," said Lolatte. "Everyone is excited to get out there."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.