Plans for Ball O’Brien Park dominated the Block Island Land Trust’s meeting last Thursday. The park was initially acquired some 30 years ago with the idea that it would be a good place for a harbors facility for visiting boaters. Since then, tennis courts, a skateboard park, a basketball hoop, playground equipment, a picnic pavilion, bathrooms, and a walking path have all been added, but the idea of a harbors facility has always been kicked down the road.
The idea of a harbors facility there resurfaced a couple of years ago, and then faded away. In the meantime, a required vegetative buffer between the Salt Pond Settlement condominiums and the park, consisting mainly of trees, was mistakenly cut down by the town.
Plans for replanting the buffer at first were put on hold to accommodate the construction of the harbors facility, but after the project stalled, the Land Trust decided to go ahead with replanting the area. But just as they were formulating a plan, the idea of a harbors facility resurfaced just last month.
Harbormaster Steve Land told the Land Trust members that he and Town Manager Ed Roberge “walked the property yesterday. We got an idea of what we’re dealing with.” Land said that despite the new proposed dinghy dock for visiting boaters, to be located between Payne’s Dock and Dead Eye Dick’s, “we need an office. This problem hasn’t gone away.” (Later Land added that it was desirable to have facilities that were “independent” of private commercial interests.) Also desired are bathrooms with showers, and perhaps an additional public boat ramp.
Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan said: “Now we’re going to have to look carefully” at all the uses of the park, including traffic and especially the safety of children using the playground.
“I agree we have to work with the playground,” said Land. “My kids go there.”
Trustee Harold “Turtle” Hatfield questioned whether there was a large enough space for a turn-around area for trucks accessing a boat ramp.
“I think there is room,” said Land, although he agreed that in the area of a steep slope, it could get “tricky.” “Maybe there won’t be a boat ramp there. People are crying out for another boat ramp.” He suggested walking the area with members of the Land Trust to see what the area looked like.
MacMullan said: “If you started with looking at a dinghy dock, office, and pathway to The Oar – maybe the second step would be to look at bathrooms.”
“I would do bathrooms at the same time,” said Land, who earlier in the meeting had talked about the effects of “gray water” coming from boats as potentially as bad as that of “black water” (i.e. sewage), citing the increase of such amenities as dishwashers and clothes washers on boats.
“It might be good to do a work session on this,” between the Land Trust and the Harbors Committee, said Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a 30-year idea.”
MacMullan said that a baseline plan should be created by the Harbors Committee before there was a joint meeting. She also asked the Land Trust’s clerk to obtain an updated map of Ball O’Brien that shows its existing uses.
As for the replanting, Hatfield called for saving room to aid in the construction of a harbors facility, while MacMullan suggested going ahead with a line of trees close to the stone border-wall.
Roberge said that there would be an inventory taken of activities in New Harbor in general over the summer, and “maybe wait until fall [to plant] to have a better idea of the uses.”
Bud Martin from the B.I. Lions Club was also there to talk about Ball O’Brien Park. The Lions Club would like to install a plaque on the picnic pavilion it constructed at the park and a “general bulletin board” on the bathroom building.
Martin said the Lions Club had put $30,000 to $40,000 into building the pavilion and wanted to get some recognition for its efforts. The bulletin board would give general information about the park, a calendar of upcoming events, and how people may donate to the organization.
As for the planned workout stations along the walking path the Lions Club constructed at the park, Martin said: “We’re not ready for that yet.”
MacMullan said of the idea: “I think it’s good — the Lions Club is doing great stuff.” She did though suggest that language be included on the bulletin board saying that the property was jointly owned by the Land Trust and the town.
The project was unanimously approved.