Public weighs in as Shrewsbury updates its open space and recreation plan

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – On Aug. 31, the Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) Committee held a public forum to gain insights from the public for open space in Shrewsbury. Over 35 residents, including representatives from the Town’s Planning Department, participated in the virtual event.

Martha Gach, acting chair of the committee, opened the forum that will serve as a guide for future development.

Questions and comments were provided throughout the presentation which began with an overview of the process by Mimi Kaplan, consultant from the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC), who was contracted to facilitate updating the plan.

Her overview included findings from a comprehensive survey of the community conducted in November 2019.

She shared key survey outcomes, including that 87 percent of survey respondents said that preserving open space and natural areas in Shrewsbury was vitally important. Primary reasons for protecting land were to protect water supply and habitats and reduce the effect of climate change.

Kaplan noted that protection of the water supply, ecologically valuable parcels and agricultural land were, according to the survey, unmet needs.

“Studies have shown that open spaces raise the value of adjacent lands, lowers cost for the town…and open spaces promote eco-tourism,” Kaplan explained.

The OSRP is a tool that is used in planning for conservation and recreation resources. The last plan was updated in 2012 and expired last year. One of the biggest accomplishments of that plan was the establishment of a highly active Trails Committee.

“[OSRP] establishes the community’s aspirations and recommends patterns of development that will support them,” said Town Planner Bernard Cahill. “When a community has an approved OSRP it becomes eligible for the Department of Conservation Services grant programs.”

The survey revealed three primary areas for future investment: improving existing passive recreation, acquiring conservation land for passive recreation, and expanding walking and biking connections. These were all supported by comments from the forum’s attendees.

 “This is all great, but in the past the plans just died…Funding is a big issue,” stated resident Melissa Hollenback, adding that the Community Preservation Act could help the town acquire land.

Other comments included that Shrewsbury lacks walking paths and trails compared to other neighboring towns and the need for indoor recreational facilities, particularly in the winter months.

Connectivity of trails and open space was referenced several times. Paul Gannon, member of the OSRP Committee, commented that space is scarce, but interconnectivity is key and is something they will explore.

Other suggestions included a community garden and a community greenhouse, an outdoor ice-skating rink, better marked trails and establishing a dog park.