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A Walk in the Park? Grant Aims to Smooth That

October 3, 2018

By Amanda Burke

aburke@sentinel andenterprise.com

FITCHBURG -- Does a damaged sidewalk make it difficult to get to your favorite park?

Does a lack of public accommodations or adequate transportation infrastructure make it hard for you access a public park, or enjoy it when you get there?

If so, representatives from Weston & Sampson want to hear from you at a public forum 6 p.m. Thursday at Fitchburg State University Hammond Hall.

“Parks are essential to a healthy lifestyle, and they want to make sure people use them,” said Amy LeBlanc, the city’s Community Development Department Senior Project Manager.

LeBlanc said Weston & Sampson received a grant from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environment Affairs to study barriers to using public parks in four gateway cities -- Fitchburg, Worcester, Chelsea and Lawrence.

Weston & Sampson will work with city’s Community Development Office and Recreation Department to facilitate the study.

The firm’s research will focus on “environmental justice” communities.

The state defines those communities as places whose annual median household income is equal to or less that 65 percent the statewide median, or where at least 25 percent of residents identify as a race other than white, or where at least 25 percent of households have no one over age 14 who speak English.

Input provided by residents at Thursday’s public hearing will be used to determine the up to 12 public parks that Weston & Sampson will study.

Weston & Sampson will study barriers to accessing these parks, including physical barriers such as sidewalks and walkways that are not wheelchair accessible.

Barriers could also be related to lack of public transportation to the park, or to public safety, said LeBlanc, who used the example of a vacant lot or home that a pedestrian may not want to walk nearby.

Weston & Sampson study will result in a report that will include suggested infrastructure and facility repairs that could be made to reduce these barriers, and the cost of implementing them.

LeBlanc said the report will help the city prioritize projects and back up future requests for funding to carry them out, she said.

“Funders like to see it’s a well thought out request,” said LeBlanc.

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