News

Merrimack has new Parks and Rec director: Matt Casparius, newly relocated from Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.

Friday, March 28, 2014

By LORETTA JACKSON

Staff Writer

Matt Casparius, newly named director of the Merrimack Parks and Recreation Department, was warmly greeted by dozens of members of the Merrimack Seniors at a meeting held at the John O’Leary Adult Community Center, 4 Church St., on March 10.

The seniors’ club, comprised of some 250 members, is one of several town groups that calls the center home base for meetings and events. Those present that day heard the newcomer’s comments about upcoming programs and projects that will be geared, he said, to all age groups in the town.

Casparius spent some time sharing his hopes that the Parks and Recreation Department undertake a larger role in the community. He noted the success of the summer day camp program and other community events, especially the summer concert series, a weekly music fest that is free and held outdoors in Abbie Griffin Park, alongside Town Hall.

He filled the post in Massachusetts for eight years. Casparius worked diligently there to increase the number of recreational offerings to the people and also to heighten the quality of ongoing programs. According to the Merrimack human resources office, some 27 applicants were reviewed for the directorship. Casparius was the selected candidate.

“Merrimack’s town officials were looking for someone with the experience to expand the recreation department’s programs and services,” Casparius said. “When I first started in my former community, the department was running around 80 programs a year. When I left after nearly eight years, we were running close to 300 programs per year.”

Manchester-by-the-Sea, he said, had about 5,000 residents. The town, situated along the northern shore of Massachusetts Bay, was settled in 1629 by colonists from Europe. He allowed that Merrimack, chartered in 1746, is about five times bigger in its population, and now boasts more than 25,000 residents as declared in the 2010 Census. He said he sees potential to expand in many ways in Merrimack.

Merrimack currently enjoys several town parks, a seasonal ice skating rink, a town beach within Wasserman Park, tennis courts, basketball courts and a host of events including the upcoming 22nd annual Easter egg hunt at Wasserman Park, at 10 a.m., Saturday, April 19, and an upcoming bus trip to Rockefeller Center in New York City on Saturday, May 17. The summer season awaits as candidates for summer lifeguards and water safety instructors, as well as tennis instructors, are filling out job applications, available through the park office.

The town has ample natural beauties, locations that offer welcoming green spaces available at no charge. According to the 2012 Merrimack Visitors Guide, a Merrimack Chamber of Commerce publication, opportunities for outdoor enjoyment are easily accessed at town-owned sites including Wasserman Park, 116 Naticook Road, Twin Bridge Park, 487 Daniel Webster Highway, Watson Park, 441 Daniel Webster Highway, Weston Park, 49 Turkey Hill Road, Horse Hill Nature Preserve, 184 Amherst Road, Veterans Memorial Park, 155 Camp Sargent Road, and a portion of the Heritage Trail, whose Village Loop begins near at Town Hall.

“I am envisioning new programs for all age groups and all different types of programs,” Casparius said. “The MYA looks like it has its youth sports programs covered pretty well, so for kids, we’re mostly thinking about the addition of nonsports-type programs, such as after school enrichment programs, for example.”

In addition, he said he would look at some adventure programs geared toward teens and students in the upper grades of elementary school. Adults, too, are being considered. Sports leagues, tennis programs, white water rafting trips are on his mind. Road races, aerobics classes, yoga, Tai Chi and community programs that teach CPR and first aid may be on the horizon.

“I have all kinds of ideas on possible programs to offer,” Casparius said. “I’m working toward completing an analysis of what is currently being offered here and what the specific needs are for future programs in Merrimack.”

Casparius is attentive to the long tradition of recreation service put in place by those who filled his post in earlier times. Most recently, former Merrimack Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Kalish, who retired and left open a post that was filled by Casparius, and a core of volunteers helped accomplish a variety of recreation programs in the town.

“In addition to adding new programs, we need to make some changes to our existing programs to make them run more efficiently while improving their overall quality,” Casparius said. “Then, we need to do a better job of letting the community know what we offer. When the public sees improvements in programs, services and facilities, I think it will create a level of excitement and help us accomplish our goals.”

He admits that one of his major tasks will be the identification of maintenance needs and the development of a long-term capital improvement plan for Parks and Recreation. He said that while it is enticing to consider new additions to the recreation roster, it is the existing facilities that should be addressed at the present time.

“Wasserman Park, in particular, needs all kinds of work to be done to improve the functionality of the park,” Casparius said. “For example, at one point in time, the department used to be able to rent out the function hall alongside the playground. The option is no longer available because there is no longer a heating system in the building and improvements related to fire codes would have to be made.”

He said there is other work to be done in other parks in the town but Wasserman is a priority in the amount of needs ready to be addressed. He added that associate Kelly Valluzzi, who has served as the department’s secretary for nearly five years, has been a valued resource for him. He said she undertook the operation of the department in the absence of a new hire from June through December while the town was considering him and other applicants.

Valluzzi, contacted after the meeting, said Casparius has been busy working long days on new programs and ideas that will benefit the Parks and Rec Department.

“Matt is definitely up to the task for bringing the department to the next level,” Valluzzi said. “He has a great personality, has great energy and loves what he does.”

The seniors applauded Casparius as he finished his talk. The seniors group is an active one whose members are engaged in town programs, in various volunteer efforts and in hosting events such as bus trips, bingo games, bridge games, Scrabble, line dancing and more. The center is available for use and for rental. It has a full kitchen, a wide-screen television with video capability, a spacious dance floor and many other amenities. It recently was the site of a grand birthday party held in honor of longtime Merrimack teacher Madeline Bennett, who turned 100.

Casparius said he hopes to visit the John O’Leary Adult Community Center again, soon, and to update the seniors on programs and events upcoming this year.

For more information, call the Merrimack Parks and Recreation Department at 883-1046 or visit on Facebook by searching for Merrimack Parks and Recreation. An online brochure, easy to download, lists a full range of programs available from March through August.

Matt Casparius can be reached by phone or by email at mcasparius@merrimacknh.gov.

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