Grounded field plan rekindled

MILFORD – In 1997 it seemed as if Milford would soon have new and badly needed recreation fields.

The town had bought nearly 30 acres of riverfront property in 1995 for $150,000, and the Gen. Frank E. Kaley Park was supposed to include three baseball and two soccer fields, as well as playgrounds, a canoe launch, picnic areas, and nature trails, on 960 feet of river frontage.

There was even talk of a footbridge to link a 10-acre island in the river to the park.

Over the past 10 years, however, Kaley Park’s woods and meadows have been as quiet as the nearby cemetery.

What the town recreation commission calls Milford’s “best kept secret,” is available for hiking and picnicking and canoe or kayak launching – but there are no sports fields.

Over the years development of the park was stalled as voters declined to fund improvements.

But now it looks as if there will be one practice field at Kaley Park, ready for 2009, thanks to private donations and to the federal government’s plans for cleanup of the Fletcher Paint Site.

Kaley Park moved to the top of the facilities committee’s priorities list, partly because of the anticipated federal Superfund cleanup work at Keyes Field. Last week Steve Trombly and his earth-moving equipment began to create a practice field for soccer and a parking lot that should be ready for 2009.

Tim Finan, a selectman and longtime member of the recreation commission, said the field will come just in time, because of the Fletcher Paint site cleanup, and because Milford’s fields are overused.

Although the town and General Electric Co. are reviewing an alternative access plan that includes access and parking on the pool side of the park instead of using Keyes Drive, the cleanup is expected to limit some of the park’s activities when it gets underway in 2010.

“We’ve had a need of fields forever, particularly practice fields. Playing fields don’t get the rest they need,” said Finan.

Finan, who is also involved with the Milford Finan, who is also involved with the Milford Community Athletic Association (MCAA), said the shortage of fields means games have to be squeezed closer together.

“We are making do. The kids are not lacking, but practice is so important. They end up practicing in the field behind the old police station or behind Heron Pond,” he said.

Town Administrator Guy Scaife said the facilities committee strongly recommended that selectmen “get on with some plans especially in lieu of the Superfund” work.

Warrant articles rejected

The project got off to a strong start in 1998 when the town approved $50,000 to build a 900-foot access road, parking lot and other improvements, and town officials said playing fields were supposed to be ready for play by the spring of 1999.

Things began to stall in 2000 when town officials considered dropping the idea of recreation fields at Kaley and using the town-owned Brox property in the southwest part of town, saying fields at Brox could be built much sooner. Then in 2003 and 2005 Milford voters rejected warrant articles for money to develop the park, including a $100,000 warrant article for a turning lane for Nashua Street, and the project stalled.

Perhaps no one is happier to see the project come to fruition than Bill Parker, the town’s community development director.

Parker had high hopes 10 years ago and has watched the project falter over the years.

At the selectmen’s meeting this Monday night he told the board that commencement of the project “almost brings tears to my eyes.”

“The grading is done and we will try to get it seeded when conditions are right,” he said. He also said the town has checked for wetlands violations after a report from neighbors, but found none.

Neighbors on nearby Linden Street had fought the project, and Parker said he has assured them they won’t be adversely affected.

“There will be no night lighting,” he said. “It will be very low key.”

According to a facilities committee report, the project went to the top of its priorities list for several reasons in addition to the Superfund cleanup: because it will require the least money, it will not affect the tax rate, will have the biggest impact on the town, will benefit the greatest number of people and will allow the town to put off building recreation facilities at Brox.

The $150,000 purchase price was offset by $25,000 from the NH Land & Water Conservation Fund, $25,000 from the Milford Conservation Commission’s land acquisition fund, $16,000 from the Kaley Foundation, $3,000 from the Milford Rotary and $3,000 from the Milford-Bennington Railroad.

The Kaley Foundation also contributed a total of $50,000 for the park, whose purpose was not only recreation use, but also to protect the Curtis Well, the town’s primary water source across the river, and expansion of the cemetery. A $10,000 donation from Karin Lagro, former Milford Main Street director, helped pay for the recent work, and Steve Trombly is donating some work on behalf of his late father, Stanley.