Tuesday May 21, 2013

Not many sounds signal the start of summer better than the crack of a bat on a baseball. And with the grand opening last weekend of the West River Park on Route 30 in Brattleboro, there’s one more place where that sound will be heard this year, and it’s a relief.

It’s been five long years since Town Meeting Representatives approved a $250,000 bond to help pay for the new park, which occupies 10.7 acres along the West River, just north of the Interstate 91 overpass. But that wasn’t enough to design, engineer and create the recreation space; another $550,000 was needed and over the past five years people and businesses have chipped in to make it a reality.

"I knew how much money we would have to raise, but I am surprised we did it in such a short period of time," said Carol Lolatte, the director of the Brattleboro Department of Recreation and Parks.

In addition to the bond, monetary and in-kind contributions came from the Vermont Community Foundation Withington Fund, the Vermont Land Trust, the Small Fry Association, youth soccer, the Windham Regional Career Center, the Brattleboro Area Softball Association and the Rotary Club. A number of anonymous donors also helped the cause. We might not know who you are, but we thank you nonetheless.

Donors, and the Town Reps, are to be thanked of course, because there’s no way this great project could have come to fruition without money. But that money would never have been contributed if not for the hard work of Lolatte and the volunteers who dedicated innumerable hours as members of the Field Space Committee, the West River Park Committee and the Recreation and Parks Board.

The park is home to a 300-foot lighted softball field, a full-sized all-purpose field for sports such as lacrosse soccer and Ultimate Frisbee and a practice field for other sports. The site will also be home to a walking trail and river access for boaters and swimmers.

The search for space began in earnest in 2007, when Fulflex corporation put up for sale its fields on Putney Road and told the recreationists who had been using it since 1948 to keep out. The Field Space Committee looked at a number of locations around town, but eventually settled on the West River location, which was then owned by Cersosimo Industries.

That plan hit a couple of bumps along the way, most notably the unsuitability of the location for a skatepark due to space limitations and environmental concerns. Planners also had to redesign the entrance to the park to account for traffic concerns related to the highly traveled -- and speedy -- Route 30 corridor.

But volunteers and designers kept plugging away and on May 18 the park got its official opening.

During the celebration, the softball field was dedicated as Brownlow Towle Field. Brownie, as he is known around town, was instrumental in helping to collect $125,000 in players’ fees raised by the Brattleboro Area Softball Association since 1985, money that went toward the new ball field in Brattleboro.

"This is for the thousands of players we’ve had over all these years," Towle said during the dedication. "It’s for everyone who has contributed, and was patient. I think it’s a beautiful place to come out and watch a game."

Even though the park is officially open, the fundraising is not complete. Another $200,000 is needed to build a bathroom to finish out the project. Nonetheless, the people of Brattleboro, the donors and all the volunteers have something to be proud of: A wonderful new addition to its roster of sports fields in a sensational location on the West River.