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.