Playground, garden planned
AMHERST – Every town needs a playground for kids to run, jump, climb and slide to their heart’s content, and research has been pointing to the importance of play, particularly unstructured play, in improving all aspects of children’s well-being.
In Amherst, there has been no public playground since last summer after cemetery trustees insisted the town dismantle and cart away the town’s only public playground from Cemetery Fields.
Even before that happened, groups talked about replacing the playground, and when 4 acres on Courthouse Road became available, the Amherst Land Trust jumped at the chance to buy it.
The trust joined forces with the Amherst Community Foundation, the Amherst Conservation Commission and the Amherst Recreation Department to plan a recreation spot for all ages, with trails, a community garden and a natural playground that blends into the surrounding woods and fields.
Members asked Ellen Grudzien to lead the playground committee. Grudzien owns Amherst Preschool on Merrimack Road and her understanding of the importance of play in children’s development makes her highly motivated.
"I am very vocal about playgrounds," she said. "It was heartbreaking – the whole Cemetery Fields situation," leaving families with no playground to which they could bring their children.
Fundraising for what is called Joshua’s Park got a jump-start from Becky Ranes, who was looking for a way to honor her son, Joshua Savyon, who was 9 when he died in 2013.
The project "is a beautiful coming together of the groups and Becky," Grudzien said. "I am so excited. It will be a beautiful spot to remember Joshua."
Property owners Sue and Scott Adams agreed to sell the 3.9 acres for under its appraised value, and the groups have raised $150,000 and need to raise another $150,000 to cover the land purchase, site work, playground equipment and other costs.
With a leadership pledge from Ranes, they have already raised more than $150,000, and now a public fundraising campaign is underway.
Grudzien said she would like to see an nontraditional "natural playground" that "invites the surroundings in."
The project means that two visions of a park that can be enjoyed by both adults and children are coming together, said Sally Wilkins, chairwoman of the Amherst Land Trust.
Some feel that because most houses are on 2-acre lots, there is no need for a community garden in Amherst, she said, but some homeowners are faced with heavily shaded or steeply graded yards and condominium dwellers usually have no garden space.
The property isn’t far from Amherst Village. It has been farmed by the Stearns and Davis families for 150 years and is still in agriculture, used by Tom Mitchell and his Frog Hollow Farm and farmstand, which will continue there.
"It will start small," Wilkens said, with maybe five plots, and they will research nearby community gardens, such as Peterborough’s, to see how they work.