A prominent local landscape architect is proposing several improvements to the northern end of Mead Park that could bring not only a new walking path and footbridge along part of the pond but also a modest-sized ice skating rink and small area for model boat enthusiasts to launch their watercraft.
Keith Simpson’s plans (see PDF at bottom of article) are conceptual and newly introduced, and many questions must be answered before the Park & Recreation Commission could offer its formal endorsement, Commission Chair Sally Campbell said at the group’s July 8 meeting.
That said, after seeing the plan and spending time at Mead Park with Simpson visualizing it, Campbell added: “I think it looks great and it would just be a wonderful addition to the park.”
She said it must be clear just what it would cost to deliver the improvements Simpson is proposing, who would pay for it and how, whether the town would incur any new costs to maintain Mead and what extra safety precautions, if any, would be required.
As it stands, the area directly behind the disused shed at the park’s edge (where Grove Street comes into Richmond Hill Road) is weedy and largely inaccessible as pedestrians approach the pond.
Simpson’s idea is to clear out a 100-by-160-foot area—about the size of three tennis courts—for a wildflower meadow in the summer that could be flooded with several inches of water for family ice skating in the winter. New Canaanites will recall that this past winter saw the town open ice skating at Mead for the first time in six years, since a new insurer required what’s turned out to be prohibitively thick ice.
“I can’t tell you how many people tell me they used to flood a baseball field or a parking lot to create a skating rink—it is really very, very inexpensive to do,” Simpson said during an initial presentation to Park & Rec at its meeting, held in the Douglass Room at Lapham Community Center.
“This is really just a grading exercise: Create the berm, put in catch basin with a drain, open or closed off. It’s very low-tech.” He added that there’s a hydrant nearby and suggested perhaps the Fire Department could create a new tradition by flooding the area for each winter’s skating.
Part of the ‘Gold Star Walk’—a path that runs to the Park Street entrance of Mead, honoring New Canaanites who perished in World War II—the area there had been part of the pond and the earth there is the dredged material of what had been a second island in Mead Pond.
Simpson said he would consult with town employees who already service Mead Pond when it “does freeze over and it does have six inches of ice on it, and it is thick, then there is obviously a program that takes over and deals with that to make it available for skating.”
“Maybe that could work. But this winter it was only a few weeks, but in this case, if we do this, it potentially could be a few months, because this obviously is safe enough that nobody is going to be at risk of going through the ice and drowning.”
Campbell suggested that the commissioners review Simpson’s plan prior to the group’s next meeting, and that Simpson connect with parks and public works officials to answer some of the critical questions attached to the proposal.
Other parts of Simpson’s plan include repairing a footbridge that crosses one feeder brook to the pond from the Richmond Hill Road side, creating another (for which a local man has pledged funding), carving out space for benches at good vantage points along a new footpath and heaping six or seven large stones along the pond’s edge to create a launch area for model boat enthusiasts.
“A lot of people in town would like to launch model boats on the pond and there are goose issues, there are thick grasses and weeds that you really cannot get down there,” Simpson said. “But if we just basically put in about six or seven heavy slabs of stone, about six inches thick, and you put them in that area and you put them in the pond even when levels up and down, it would work. No steel, no concrete—just big stones, heavy guys, so they won’t move and somebody can go to the end and launch a [model] boat. I know a number of people interested in that.”
Commissioner Andy Gordon asked Simpson whether the project itself could be done in phases and what would the highest priority be.
Simpson—a member of the Waveny Park Conservancy and New Canaan Beautification League, among other local groups—replied that he would “really like to fast-track the bridges.”
“They have been in the works for years, and the money for the bridges has been in the town’s possession for a number of years,” he said. “We would love to see [the existing] one repaired because it’s a safety hazard.”
The second footbridge, to the northwestern edge of the pond, would be done in the same size and style as the first, so that they appear to have come as a pair, Simpson said.
“But we need to build the abutments in the pond,” he said, so it would be helpful if the commission endorsed that part of the plan prior to his making a request of the Inland Wetlands Commission to get formal permission.
Here’s a PDF of Simpson’s master plan—zoom in for his notes and details: