NORTHFIELD — An $88,000 state grant will help four areas in greater Northfield that were recently developed, upgraded or acquired by the town as additional recreational amenities.
– Water Street Park, which that has seen extensive work to reduce the risk of flooding during and after Tropical Storm Irene between the Dog River and Water Street and between the Wall Street bridge and the Norwich University rugby field, and work to create a recreation area.
– Promise Community Playground, off Burnham Road in Northfield Falls.
– Memorial Park, which saw the addition of picnic pavilions and restrooms.
– The addition of Paine Mountain summit to Northfield Town Forest, purchased by the town from TDS Telecom last year for $35,000, to add recreational opportunities, in association with Norwich University’s Shaw Outdoor Center .
Town officials and residents involved in the project said the grant would help the town to study how to better-connect recreation resources with village centers by improving sidewalks, wayfinding signage, parking access and improving water quality and stormwater infrastructure.
The grant came from the Better Connections program funded by the Agency of Transportation and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in collaboration with the Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Health.
Each year, municipalities compete for about $200,000 in project funds that require a 10 percent local cash match. Northfield will have 18 months to complete the project, starting in June.
Support for the grant program came from Gov. Phil Scott in a news release about the Northfield award.
“This collaborative approach to expanding and improving transportation systems is a great example of how we can make our communities more livable and enjoyable for Vermonters,” Scott stated. “These funds will support projects to strengthen the local economies and improve quality of life for their residents.”
In fact, town officials first considered applying for a Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Communities grant, a program launched last fall by the governor to support development of outdoor recreation-friendly communities, according to Northfield Conservation Commission member Debbie Zuaro.
But because they were unprepared to meet a tight deadline for a VOREC grant, Northfield officials were advised to seek the Better Connections grant instead that applied many of the same criteria to a community connections project, Zuaro said, adding that she hoped to apply for a VOREC grant in the future.
“So, we decided to try to get a planning grant, like the Better Connections grant, that would be a critical first step and then we can take it from there,” Zuaro said. “We’ll hire a consultant to help us with this process and we’re excited to see what the community engagement piece will yield.
“We both want to make the community aware of what we’re planning and engage and get feedback from the community and at meetings in a number of existing venues … to highlight this grant and have a two-way communication process,” she added.
In addition to the grant project, Zuaro said there is also an opportunity to consider unifying the towns’ historic four villages.
Creating cohesive transportation and infrastructure links between the villages would also help to connect with the different outdoor recreation areas within them, Zuaro said.
“This seems like the perfect place to start,” Zuaro added.
Project partner Lydia Petty credited the support and input of town boards and departments, schools, Norwich University and state agencies to address the town’s “fragmented resources and finding better ways of connecting them.”
“We will be examining, through lots of community engagement and our master planning process, ways of better-connecting with our village centers to encourage healthy living and economic development of all these new resources,” she added.
Northfield state representative and Northfield Select Board member Kenny Goslant also welcomed news of the grant.
“This will enable Northfield’s community leaders to grow our local economy, improve the health of many residents, promote social equity and better protect the environment,” Goslant said.
To learn more about the Better Connections program, visit www.vtrans.vermont.gov/planning/projects-programs/better-connections.