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Grantham Park Now Handicapped-Accessible

  • KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Craig McArt photograph

  • From left, volunteers Dave Wood, Dick Hocker, Dennis Ryan and Craig McArt build railings on the new bridge spanning Skinner Brook. Renee Gustafson photograph

  • Grantham Conservation Commissioners Dennis Ryan, left, and Dave Wood rough cut a temporary ramp for construction access to the bridge. Dick Hocker photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2016 11:04:55 PM
Modified: 8/6/2016 11:04:54 PM
Grantham — Thanks to dozens of volunteers, a grant and town money, Brookside Park is now home to a new, ADA-accessible bridge and trail.

The project, spearheaded by the Grantham Conservation Commission, is “a testament to what government can actually get done at a grass-roots level,” said commission member Laura Nagy, who described the process in a telephone interview and emails.

The wooded 20-acre park is on Route 10, a few minutes’ drive north of Exit 13 on Interstate 89. Much of the park, which was expanded in 2014, was accessible only by small footbridges crossing Skinner Brook. After the bridges washed out during Tropical Storm Irene, the land could be reached “only by rock-hopping, and not at all during times of high water,” Nagy said.

At Town Meeting in 2015, voters approved $2,500 toward replacing a footbridge over the brook in the park, and the Conservation Commission, which oversees town-owned land, was charged with getting the new bridge in place.

The commission recognized a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to create a park that is accessible to everyone, Nagy said. “The relatively level topography along the brook allows for at least a portion of the trail system (to be ADA-accessible).”

To meet ADA requirements, the bridge required special considerations regarding placement, design, size and weight.

Luckily, Nagy said, “we have an engineer on our design team,” referring to commission member Rich Kaszeta, a mechanical engineer who has “poured countless hours into the project,” including designing the bridge, working with local company Barker Steel to fabricate three 1,400-pound steel I-beams, and designing and building the concrete footers.

The commission worked with the Student Conservation Association to coordinate its role in the project, and the town contracted with the nonprofit to do the work, Nagy said.

Rather than machines, volunteers from the organization used muscle power, cables, ropes and pulleys to move the beams from the parking lot, across the brook, and up onto footers, she said. “It was amazing to see the teamwork.”

Later, SCA volunteers camped for two weeks in a field next to Town Hall while they built the 427-foot-long trail, which runs along the brook and to an overlook.

“They have done a beautiful trail,” Nagy said.

The volunteers are part of the SCA New Hampshire AmeriCorps Program, a 10-month residential program for people ages 18-25 that includes leadership, skills and safety training.

Using rigging equipment to pull and lift the I-beams into place was great hands-on training for the volunteers, said Matt Coughlan, conservation service coordinator with the program. And building the wheelchair-accessible trail “really helped us dial in all the trail-building skills we’ve learned, from start to finish.”

“I really thought it was a great initiative that the town took on,” Coughlan said.

New Hampshire AmeriCorps is doing more and more ADA trail work every year, and he said he’d like to see more communities build facilities such as Grantham’s.

“I think it’s a really positive trend,” he said. “Everyone deserves the right to get out into nature, and we try to make that happen.”

Dick Hocker, chairman of the Conservation Commission, estimates that the total volunteer time for the project was close to 1,000 hours.

After the I-beams were in place, Conservation Commission members and other community volunteers finished building the bridge and access ramps, Nagy said. They also cleared and marked trails, “wrote copy and set up scannable QR codes for important features, created a map of the park and trails, hauled construction materials, and donated tools, equipment and construction materials.”

The roughly $20,000 project, which included site selection, trail clearing, bridge design and construction, took about 18 months, wrapping up last month. It was paid for with a $15,000 grant from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, the $2,500 approved at Town Meeting, and current use money.

“It’s amazing that we have the bridge and can now access all of the park,” said Town Administrator Melissa White, who called the ADA-accessible site “a great community asset.”

“It’s so tranquil to just be out there,” White said. “Folks that aren’t able to navigate a traditional hiking trail, I think it enables them to get out and enjoy nature, the park (and) the brook.”

The property is already being well used, said Hocker, who on a recent visit there met a woman and her German shepherd playing in the brook and a party of six hikers.

“The real beauty, of course, is Skinner Brook. That is, for so many reasons, a very, very pleasant resource to have,” said Hocker, a fisherman who recently caught a native brook trout there. “It’s a pretty stream. It has a lot of the things trout like.”

A ceremony is set for Aug. 27, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Brookside Park. It will include free trail maps, guided walks, refreshments, a display chronicling the history of the park and bridge project, and information about other conservation parcels in the town.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.




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