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Creating passive recreation on 5-acre site urged.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

FITCHBURG - The Stathis family has lived in the Sheldon Street neighborhood for more than 30 years; Katrina Stathis-Couture remembers sledding down the hill in winter and the Fitchburg Yarn mill burning down in 1983. She is interested in seeing the 5-acre vacant lot developed for the enjoyment of nature.

"I want to see something simple and quiet, walking trails, a place where people can come and enjoy nature; there are turtles and ducks that live right over there in the (Nashua) river," Ms. Couture told representatives of the Fitchburg Greenway Committee who were out yesterday morning meeting with residents on the freshly mown green space between Sheldon and West streets.

Neighborhood and city residents dropped in all morning asking questions, telling city officials of their concerns and giving Clarissa Rowe, landscape architect, ideas on what they'd like to see happen on the recently purchased land.

A clear majority of the opinions on what Gateway Park should offer were passive recreation options: a river walk, trails, a community garden, a gazebo, a launch site for canoes and kayaks, kite flying, sledding, picnic areas, and a kiosk with maps of the conservation areas and history of the site.

The 5-acre site alongside the Nashua River was purchased with grant money from the state through the Gateway City Parks Program from WDC Construction of Leominster for $335,000.

The state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs also provided landscape architects, Brown, Richardson & Rowe Inc. of Boston, to develop a plan for the future park. The company will hold another public discussion at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at North Central Charter School.

The Trustees of Reservations, a statewide land conservation group, handled the purchase of the land.

"There were many people and organizations that were part of this: the Fitchburg Greenway Committee, the North County Land Trust, the city of Fitchburg, the Nashua River Watershed Association, the North Central Charter School," said David Outman of the Trustees of Reservations and project manager for the park.

WDC Construction also provided an initial startup endowment for maintenance of the park.

The plan being considered is to keep 2 acres of brush-cleared land off of Sheldon Street mowed and to create a circular loop trail of the river bank on both sides of the river, approximately one mile long that will be accessible to all.

"This is a beautiful stretch of river, with its natural contours, amazing and very rare so close to an urban setting. Other parts of the river have been channeled, it's course changed, but here you have a natural habitat that we are hoping to improve," Mr. Outman said.

The added 5 acres of conservation land brings the total to more than 2,000 acres of conservation areas in the city.

"I never realized what a beautiful piece of land this is. I can see its potential and am eager to hear what the long-term plans are going to be, including the cost of maintenance," said City Councilor-at-Large Marcus L. DiNatale.

His father, state Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, agreed. "This is good stuff, an asset we have to keep open. I support this wholeheartedly," he said.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 23, 2009
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