The Day – The pandemic elevated exercise at parks and trails. Now cities are utilizing ARPA funds for out of doors recreation.


Briggs Brook, which begins at Old Town Mill, runs under Crystal Avenue and through Fulton Park, and then empties into Winthrop Cove, is not visible or accessible to the public due to overgrowth of vegetation.

But that’s something the City of New London is hoping to change, using about $1.67 million of its $26.3 million in COVID-19 pandemic assistance in the form of American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government .

Related story: Here’s where cities and towns in southeastern Connecticut are allocating ARPA funds

The plan, by engineering firm Barton & Loguidice, which has offices throughout the Northeast, calls for clearing the banks of vegetation and adding beyond the banks walkways, picnic tables, a viewing platform, lighting, a gazebo and trees. The city also plans to install a wooden footbridge across the creek in Fulton Park to connect the two parts of the park. The next stage is brush cleaning.

Director of Public Works Brian Sear said the city has submitted a bid as part of the $1.67 million and is spending about $75,000 to replace the roof of the Old Town Mill at 8 Mill St . The city also gave about $230,000 to replace the Fulton Park basketball courts on Crystal Avenue, which was completed.

“Without ARPA, I would have lost a bit of weight, but there’s no way we would have made that kind of an effort,” Sear said, adding, “It’s not a scale that we would normally have been able to afford. “

Public health is one of the approved ways that communities can spend the funds, and the Fulton Park improvements are just one outdoor recreation project of many that public works, parks and recreation departments across Connecticut are working on with ARPA funds. Parks, trails and beaches have seen increased use during the pandemic. While it’s difficult to say exactly what would have happened without ARPA dollars, directors say some projects would have taken much longer to complete or would have been done on a smaller scale.

Also included in New London’s ARPA editions is $150,000 for a “Rec Mobile”.

“As our community experiences post-COVID isolation and stays close to home, New London Recreation is looking to integrate with community neighborhoods by taking the Recreation Department to the streets!” the Recreation Department’s grant application stated. The idea is that the Rec Mobile will do routine neighborhood or park visits and offer fitness, board games, sports and crafts.

Recreation director Tommie Major said the department is trying to get the van built, but there are delays with certain companies and he hopes to get it in late August or September.

Outside of its department, the city’s Bureau of Development and Planning received $150,000 for a public green space improvement program, funds that could be used for fences, playscapes, signage, exercise equipment, public toilets, and benches.

Montville: Camp Oakdale improvements and an inclusive playground

Outdoor recreation was clearly a priority for Montville: About 40% of the first $1.5 million approved by the City Council, out of a total of $5.5 million over two years, was set aside for the Parks and Recreation Commission .

This includes a variety of projects at Camp Oakdale, 140 Meeting House Lane: $360,000 to replace the tennis courts, $55,000 to repair the pavilion, $24,000 for bleachers for the soccer field, and $5,000 to replace the grill.

Adjacent to Camp Oakdale is the Mostowy property, which the city purchased in 2018 and the city has allocated $12,000 for a site plan and $5,000 for a trail. Commission chair Kate Southard said the commission must begin with an archaeological study and engineer, and then wants to expand the natural pathways on the property.

The commission will receive $150,000 in ARPA funding for an inclusive playground that Southard says will likely be at the community center. She explained that the playground would accommodate children with physical disabilities and would also be good for children with autism.

The ARPA budget also includes $20,000 for parking and a picnic area in Scholfield Park that fire departments use for training.

Southard doesn’t believe the inclusive playground or grandstands for the soccer field would have happened without ARPA funding. As for the status of the projects, she said the grills have arrived and need to be installed, she’s awaiting construction plans for the accessible playground, and she’s getting new estimates for the tennis courts.

“I think we realized that we just need more outdoor things for our communities, more places for people to be able to do activities that don’t require them to worry about social distancing,” Southard said of the impact of the Pandemic.

Groton: Sutton Park, Shennecossett Golf Course and Master Plans

When the City Council and City Representative Assembly allocated $3.05 million of Groton’s ARPA funds as part of the March-May budget process, nearly two-thirds were reserved for projects related to parks and outdoor recreation.

“During the pandemic, people used parks a lot more simply because it was a safe place for people to get out and contribute to their mental and physical well-being,” said Mark Berry, director of parks and recreation.

The largest project is $980,000 for Sutton Park at 185 Fort Hill Road. Berry said the proposal was to replace a playground, rehabilitate one of the shelters, remodel the skate park and redesign the parking lot. His department is working to put together a tender for design services, and he hopes to post by August. There would then be a process to get input from people using the skate park and playground.

There is also $210,000 for a Community Connectivity Master Plan to create a bike and pedestrian plan for Groton for the first time since 2004.

“The goal of updating the community connectivity plan is to identify the existing areas where it is challenging for people to travel safely from one place to another and to prioritize the projects identified,” said Berry. He hopes to develop the call for proposals this fall, collecting data from people who cycle and walk from spring to fall, and have a final report in 2024.

There’s also $80,000 for a parks and open spaces master plan, which Berry says was last created in 2009.

The city’s total ARPA allocation is approximately $8.6 million, and $740,000 has been set aside for the Shennecossett Golf Course, 93 Plant St. — for an operations analysis, toilet building construction, and refurbishment clubhouse. Berry said he’s seen “a huge increase” in people playing the golf course during the pandemic.

East Lyme: Darrow Pond, lido and playgrounds

The top ARPA priorities for East Lyme Parks & Recreation, said Director Dave Putnam, are the master plan for the $25,000 Darrow Pond Recreation Area and the $200,000 improvement in restrooms at parks, particularly at the hole-in the-Wall Beach at the end of Baptist Lane at Niantic. Putnam said the city wants to make the bathroom accessible year-round, but it’s not yet winterized.

Two hundred of the 300 acres at Darrow Pond, off Mostowy Road off Route 161, are in a conservation easement, but the rest can be improved, and the city has just applied for a master plan that will guide its use, Putnam said. Improvements would be for passive recreation that blends into the environment, not something like ball fields.

“We’ve seen a big push towards hiking and outdoor adventures, so I think Darrow Pond would be a really good place to put the money as well,” Putnam said, adding that he saw a “huge increase” in usage saw the Niantic Bay Boardwalk and beaches during the pandemic – hence the bathroom improvements at Hole-in-the-Wall.

Putnam hopes to select a contractor for the master plan in mid-July and begin toilet improvements in the fall.

His department will also receive $500,000 to improve playgrounds at McCook Point Park and Peretz Park and $75,000 to replace water fountains in the parks.

Putnam said the various projects are on his long-term capital improvement list, but without ARPA funding “they might have been able to complete, but it would have taken years, so I think that just sped up that process.”

Norwich: much noise around Mohegan Park

Norwich received $28.8 million in ARPA funding and the first round of funding, approved in September, includes some projects at Mohegan Park.

This includes $120,000 for improvements to the Mohegan Park Playground, $50,000 for the addition of adult practice stations and $30,000 for expanding the disc golf course to 18 holes with short and long baskets. The city has already set up seven exercise equipment stations such as abdominal machines, leg presses and rowing machines.

There is also $350,000 towards improvements to the Armstrong tennis courts. Additional ARPA allocations for outdoor recreation include $130,000 for improvements at Jenkins Park near High and Mechanic Streets, $100,000 for the Greeneville Playground at 266 Central Ave. and $150,000 for the Splash Pad; these are all part of the master park plan.

The Public Works Department has a $1.1 million budget for design and installation work at Uncas Leap Heritage Park off Yantic Street, including the completion of the granite mill ruins, interpretive signage and a timeline exhibit, fencing, lighting, a toilet facility and hiking trails. According to the project description, this “will be a tourist attraction, which should help the city’s restaurants and hotels.”

SLR International Corp. was selected as the design firm in late 2021 and had begun the surveying portion of the work in late March, according to a first quarter report.

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