MICHAEL HODDER stands at the trailhead of Front Bay Park and speaks to the crowd that included town officials, Crescent Lake fifth graders and other children, and well-wishers gathered on Sept. 12 to acknowledge the private-public partnership that made the universally accessible trails he envisioned possible. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
September 20, 2012WOLFEBORO — Michael Hodder, who recently retired from service on the Wolfeboro Conservation Commission, was nevertheless at the trailhead of Front Bay Park last Wednesday, Sept. 12 to greet nearly 80 celebrants at the grand opening of the park to the public and serve as the master of ceremonies for the proud occasion.
As well-wishers and town officials involved in the project gathered in the handicap-accessible parking area, a yellow school bus pulled up on Bay Street to disgorge Crescent Lake Elementary School's fifth graders and their teachers. The inaugural of the park was the first stop on a day-long field trip for the students and a surprise to Hodder, who grinned broadly at their approach.
Glancing at the sheet cake to be cut at the conclusion of the ceremony he said jubilantly, "This cakes belongs to them. This makes the event."
Hodder answered a challenge from a private citizen in 2011 to match a $60,000 donation to create a park on town land with private funding. The groundwork had been laid with the purchase of the land in 1991 from the Bowers and Merena Company at a community-minded price and the contribution of Don McBride, who put a piece of his holdings into a conservation easement of enough value to seal the deal.
Hodder soon found himself playing the Pied Piper and individuals heeded the call. With $120,000, including a contribution from The Land Bank of Wolfeboro-Tuftonboro the project was soon underway.
Director of Planning and Development Rob Houseman, who served as project manager, oversaw the selective logging and trail work, the construction of the upper and lower parking areas accessible to the disabled – who will now be able to ride or be pushed along in wheelchairs along the winding trail – and brought it to completion with the assistance of Dave Ford, Director of Public Works, was clearly pleased with the result.
As the trail designer and builder Josh Ryan, owner of Timber and Stone, of East Calais, Vt., and his wife, with children in tow, looked on, Houseman told those in attendance, "When you walk the trail, you have to pay attention to the details, because if you don't, you won't notice them. That's how well they blend in."
He pointed out that visitors have an unusual view of Back Bay from the gazebo down on the waterfront and noted with enthusiasm, " If you like to watch the Abenaki Waterski Club races, and you thought they looked fast from the side, try seeing them head on."
Houseman asked individuals to take responsibility for the park, inform the town of any vandalism and pick up what others might leave behind…. and volunteer!
Selectman Chairman Linda Murray thanked all who made the park possible, and others stepped up, too, to commend Wolfeboro on creating one of the few universally accessible parks in the state: Jillian Shedd, Accessibility Coordinator of the NH Governor's Commission on Disability; Stephen Walker, Stewardship Specialist for the State of N.H. Office of Energy and Planning; and a representative from NH Senator Kelly Ayotte's office.
Selectman David Bowers, who made the land purchase with his business partner Ray Merena years ago with the idea in mind that the town might benefit in the future, encouraged others to assist in future capital improvement projects and commended Hodder for his work.
The artfully-decorated sheet cake with an outdoor theme, a gift for the occasion from Selectman Bowers and made by Planning and Development Department Administrative Secretary Terry Tavares, was divided up with enough left over for some school children to even have seconds.
The fifth graders gathered at the entrance to the new trails at the close of the opening ceremony to continue their day's field trip with their teachers and naturalist Sally Cornwell to learn about edible wild foods and medicinal plants.
Walker approached Hodder to tell him how natural and undisturbed the woodland appears, despite the construction and how much it means to him, as the father of a disabled child, to have those needs taken into consideration. "That makes it all worthwhile," said Hodder.