SUNDERLAND — Officials have big recreation plans for the town’s riverfront property at the end of School Street.
“We have spent the past year working with a landscape architect to develop a long-range master plan for the entire 9.5 acres of town-owned land on which our library and town offices are located,” said Community Pathways Committee Chairwoman Sara Snyder in a recent email.
Immediate plans include rehabilitating a small boat launch that’s right now “a big set of potholes” to make it handicapped accessible. Snyder said the project, estimated to cost around $80,000, will be funded and designed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and is expected to begin and end this fall.
“It will be a small boat access only — a ‘fishermen’s access.’ There’s a limit on length of the boat and size of the motor,” Snyder said.
Connecting to the proposed launch is a separate riverfront pathway project that’s also expected to receive outside funding. If approved, Snyder said the walk will circumnavigate the entire 9.5 acres of town-owned property near the town offices.
“We’re applying for a universally accepted (handicapped accessible) trail with an overlook. It’s a spectacular view of (Mount) Sugarloaf from there,” Snyder said. “This would be a block away from the (120 North Main St.) senior housing project. A stroller, walker and wheelchair pathway around the river, which is a dream.”
Currently, town officials are working with wildlife agencies to remove invasive species along the river and plant native species to facilitate the project. The committee held a forum this month to gather public input on the recreation projects.
Last year, voters approved $36,631 in Community Preservation Act money at annual Town Meeting to acquire riverfront land, create a master recreation plan and apply for grant opportunities.
Those two improvement projects are part of a larger vision to turn Sunderland into a recreational destination in the region.
The master plan outlines future renovations to the soccer and baseball fields, including a picnic area, concession stand, playground and bathrooms, behind the town office, along with the volleyball and basketball courts. Improvements include “a cohesive park serving residents of all ages and all abilities,” Snyder said, noting it’s “a long-range vision that we can only develop in phases as we fund them.”
Town officials intend to apply to the state’s PARC Grant funding program this summer, which has a July 12 application deadline — the same monetary source of Northampton’s Pulaski Park project and Turners Falls’ Unity Park.
“The whole master plan would cost roughly $2 million,” Snyder said, noting it can’t be paid for exclusively by the town. “The maximum we could get from the PARC grant is $400,000. We have to chunk it out — and most park projects are done this way — we do it in phases as we can fund them. We still haven’t settled on exactly which components go into that first proposal.”
In the past year, Sunderland has seen a few major projects take drastic steps forward — including a subsidized senior housing development on North Main Street and roadway improvement projects potentially funded through the state’s Complete Streets Program.
“What you’re seeing is the fruit of starting CPA about five or six years ago,” Snyder said. “This committee is a dream team. It really is. We’ve been working for four years vigorously and we’re seeing a lot of things coming together.”
She also noted a $15,000 state grant awarded in April the town will use to help build its eco-tourism brand through image branding, another piece of the bigger vision.
“We leverage CPA to bring in other funds. That’s been our approach,” Snyder said. “In four years time it’s going to be significantly different. Our village center is going to have a different feel when we walk through it. It’s very exciting.”