Derry officials want Hood Park, rail trail connection to be top of the list

JULIE HUSS/Staff photoHood Park in Derry tops the list of priorities for the Town Council to tackle as efforts are put in place to upgrade local recreation facilities and areas.

DERRY — A study of the town's recreational areas have given officials a good look at what to focus on as months move forward.

That includes opportunities to provide upgraded field opportunities for the community to enjoy and also a major effort to make Hood Park an updated and improved downtown destination.

Last year, a team from the University of New Hampshire was given the challenge to do a study of recreation facilities, programs and areas with results presented to Town Council at a workshop June 9. Derry's recreational facilities have been a focus for a while, with workshops and other efforts planned to help upgrade areas in the community, including parks, fields and trails.

The UNH team was made up of faculty members and graduate students who came to Derry to tour facilities, talk to all stakeholders, town officials and all involved in the life of the community's recreation including sports leagues, coaches, and all groups who use facilities for various programs and activities.

Bob Barcelona, of the UNH Department of Recreation Management and Policy, led the recent presentation to the Town Council, saying Derry has a lot of quality areas and programs in place to support its recreational needs, but there were challenges as well.

Some highly used areas include the historic Veterans Hall on West Broadway, a key center for the Parks and Recreation Department that hosts a well-used gymnasium.

But Barcelona said the building is aging, and may not meet the town's needs in future years.

Another spot with challenges is Alexander-Carr Park, with an aging lodge that could either be replaced or refurbished to add additional space for programming.

Town officials have studied the Alexander-Carr Park facility in the past, and even looked at a complete overhaul and rebuild of a new lodge building.

That could be an expensive venture, costing up to $1.5 million, officials said.

Barcelona said Derry has many strengths including a vibrant senior population, well-maintained parks and facilities, strong community-focused recreation programs and an active youth sports culture.

He said things the study showed that could suit Derry well to change include completing the rail trail to eventually connect to Londonderry, more senior-specific programming, more field space, a potential larger indoor, community space for recreation and civic activities and improvements to Hood Park.

Officials said Hood Park is a town gem, close to the rail trail and, if improved, could be a real draw to the downtown.

Hood Park was a popular summer swimming spot for many years, with youth swimming lessons taking place every summer. But due to the lack of lifeguard interest and often poor pond water quality, that program faded over the years.

The park still offers basketball, tennis, picnic tables, playground, fishing, biking and trails. But the park, named to honor the prominent Hood family of Derry, has fallen on quieter times.

There is already a strong effort moving forward to address Hood Park, officials said. A Hood Park master planning task force is currently working on a process to potentially bring the park back to a good spot.

That includes applying for an AARP Community Challenge Grant to support the park; stakeholder interviews this month; forming a steering committee in July; hosting a Hood Park community cleanup event in August; hosting a public charrette in September and making final approvals happen later in the fall to move forward with plans.

Following Barcelona's presentation, town councilors are scheduled to narrow down a focus on what projects to put at the top of the list, and that most likely includes Hood Park and the rail trail continuation project.

An eventual connection to Londonderry's trail system may also involve land acquisition as part of the ongoing progress of the planned Exit 4A project in Derry.

"The rail trail has so much value to this community," Councilor Jim Morgan said. "We need to know if this is going to happen. I would like to see the rail trail as our number one priority."

Hood Park also tops the list.

"Hood Park is the diamond we need to shine up a little," Councilor Richard Tripp said.

Public Works Director Michael Fowler called the UNH study "a good snapshot and a reflection of where we are both good and bad."

The town's recreational programming is starting to get back on track with some activities starting again. The Derry Dog Park was scheduled to open this week with added improvements and safety guidelines in place; the town's Gallien's Beach at Beaver Lake, for residents only, is set to open June 15, also with new restrictions on the number of guests and other safety measures in place.

The town will also be offering outdoor fitness classes at Don Ball Park throughout the summer. Other popular summer activities will not happen, including the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

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