BRATTLEBORO -- Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte is not really surprised that the greater Brattleboro community was able to raise $800,000 to help get the new West River Park on Route 30 built and opened.
When Town Meeting Representatives approved a $250,000 bond in 2008 to purchase the 10.7 acres of land along the West River, they did so with the stipulation that no other town money would be used to design the park or develop the land.
So Lolatte and a group of volunteers began raising money and she figured it would be a few years before the first softball was tossed out on the new field.
Lolatte said she knew the community would come through, but she admits that it is surprising just how quickly the town was able to get the new public space open.
"It's hard to believe that we broke ground two years ago and we were standing in the middle of a corn field. I knew how much money we would have to raise, but I am surprised we did it in such a short period of time," Lolatte said Thursday. "And now, to look down and see those fields filled with people. It's great to see the project come full circle."
On Saturday, May 18, the town is hosting a grand opening celebration to show off the fields and acknowledge all of the work that has gone into developing Brattleboro's newest recreational facility.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the fields will be filled with youth and adults hitting softballs, kicking soccer balls and tossing lacrosse balls. The official ribbon cutting is scheduled for 2 p.m.
There will be free food, and the town is warning motorists and bicycle riders to be extra careful around the entrance to the park, which is just north of the Retreat Meadows on Route 30.
Lolatte stressed that the land was able to be developed so quickly because both large and small donors got involved. Area corporations donated hundreds and even thousands of dollars. The Windham Regional Career Center helped with a number of landscaping and construction projects. Area Small Fry baseball and youth soccer players sold raffle tickets for Red Sox and Patriots tickets and held fundraising events that brought in donations one dollar at a time. And from the ground breaking all the way until the first softball game was held earlier this month contractors made in-kind contributions of their time and machinery.
The town opened up the fields earlier this spring and on any given weekday night the fields have been filled with people playing softball and soccer.
Lolatte said the town's Recreation and Park staff also has to be recognized.
The department now has an extra 10.7 acres to maintain and she said the staff has worked around some challenges, including not yet having a maintenance shed on site, to get the fields ready for the 2013 season.
The West River Park also has opened up access to the West River and people are getting used to parking at the new lot and getting down to the river to boat or walk along the shore.
The West River Park Committee set a goal of about $1 million and Lolatte said they are still looking to raise another $200,000 to build a bathroom and finish off the project.
"We've come along way, but we have a little more to do. This was truly a grassroots effort. There were so many people involved," Lolatte said. "It has been a lot of work and it is great to be at this stage. A lot of people have put a lot of time into this."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.