Diamond Hill neighbors sign petition against filling park's pond

Diamond Hill neighbors sign petition against filling park's pond

CUMBERLAND - On the heels of news about the town's completed wetlands application to the state, some 130 residents in the Diamond Hill Park area have submitted a petition to Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, that opposes filling the pond in front of the bandstand and the destruction of the beaver family that lives downstream of the bandstand.

Instead, according to spokesman Chris Ratcliffe of Fisher Road, the residents are asking for repairs to the pond that include a new pump to maintain the water level and a planned spray fountain to aerate the pond and help eliminate algae and mosquitoes.

He notes a 1995 master plan for the park that was never followed that also called for upgrading bathroom facilities, creating walking paths and a playground, beautifying the entrance, paving the parking area, and upgrading the lodge building.

About the beavers downstream from the pond, he suggests the animals offer a "unique educational opportunity for residents" while "adding to the overall natural character of the park."

The petition comes as the town finalizes its lengthy application with the DEM's wetlands division to fill the pond and create a new audience viewing area in front of the music stage. Prepared by Gifford Design Group of Cumberland, it follows two resident meetings and research about ways to eliminate the expanse of water that separates performers from their audiences, and, musicians say, diminishes the entire concert experience.

An alternate pond is suggested by Gifford at the back of the stage, fed by Sylvie's Brook, the same water source that feeds the current pond. Gifford argues in his report that the new pond, although smaller, will provide a better habitat for wildlife than the walled in pond that currently goes almost dry during the summer months.

While the pond, which is ringed with a rock wall, is often referred to as man-made, Ratcliffe says in his letter to Coit that aerial statewide planning maps show there was a swamp in 1939, "a historical natural habitat for a variety of wildlife and plant life."

He also suggests that regular maintenance on a pump, and in-flow pipes would have kept the pond at a consistent level.

Cumberland's Director of Parks & Recreation, Mike Crawley, took issues with some of the assumptions of the petition and told The Breeze this week that he wishes "people would ask more questions first."

The pond is currently low, he says, not because of clogged pipes or for lack of a pump, but because Sylvie's Brook is currently low. "It's Mother Nature," he said. "When there's no rain, there's no water."

Inlet pipes from the dam to the pond are set low, he said, giving the town no ability to adjust the pond level, he said.

The pond is almost "bone dry" this week and there's nothing the town can do about it, he said.

About the beavers, Crawley said, "We haven't made a decision. We're waiting to see how much damage they do downstream."

Mayor Daniel McKee has been a proponent of filling the pond, but this week, after a week in Portugal, suggested that if the permitting process becomes too complicated then portable stages might be a good solution.

McKee was there with members of the Lusitana Club and said their entire band was easily accommodated on a stage that could be taken down. That's the route used by Russ Gusetti, organizer of the annual Summer Solstice festival every June in the park.

About the beavers, Crawley says they have created a second hut downstream from the first and he's expecting the growing family to begin intruding on residential land.

Gifford's application does not address the beavers but the two issues have been repeatedly linked by residents because Sylvie's Brook feeds the pond just north of the beaver hut.

It was last spring when Crawley proposed removing the beaver family, action that brought outcry from environmentalists around town despite Crawley's assertion that the beavers are cutting down trees.

State officials warned that trapping in the spring is illegal. But Crawley said he has since heard from a number of licensed trappers willing to remove them between the months of November and March when Crawley says it will be legal.

The DEM does not permit the town to relocate them; rather any captured beavers must be destroyed.

Both McKee and Crawley said a decision on the beavers is still pending.