Town gets $18K for park walking loop


BENNINGTON — The town's Office of Community Development has been awarded a nearly $18,000 grant for a walking loop around Stark Street Park, ensuring another aspect of the revitalization project can move forward.

Without the $17,990 grant from AARP, the plans to build a quarter-mile loop around the entirety of the park wouldn't be set in stone, said Shannon Barsotti, community development director for the town.

"It would have been like, hopefully we can do this in the future," she said. "Now it's like, OK, it's happening."

The grant will pay for all the costs of the walking loop, including benches and landscaping. The path will be handicapped-accessible, and will connect with another trail adjacent to Stark Street Park, Barsotti said.

The town is one of two Vermont communities awarded funds as part of the $1.6 million Community Challenge grant program from the AARP to help fund 159 "quick action" projects across the country, helping communities make immediate improvements and jump-start long term progress, according to a media release from the AARP.

Besides Bennington, the city of Newport received $24,172.35 for the Prouty Beach Connector Project, which will contribute to Newport's development of an outdoor recreational economy, according to the release.

There were nearly 1,700 applications from non-profit and government entities for the program, now in its third year. The AARP representative in Vermont encouraged Bennington to apply for the grant, Barsotti said.

"That's always a good sign, when someone's encouraging you to apply." she said. "It was really exciting to be able to receive it. It really was a perfect grant for us."

The grant requires that the project be complete by Nov. 4.

"But that's very doable," Barsotti said. "We hoped to have it done as soon as possible."

Work to clear the path will start within the next couple of weeks, she said.

Other park efforts

The path is one of five core projects developed for Stark Street Park along with restroom restoration, adding a pump track, a nature playground and finding a solution for water drainage issues at the site.

The pump track is complete and open, and is already quite popular, Barsotti said.

"Just having multiple uses at Stark Street is going to make it a popular place," she said.

The track cost about $6,000 in total; the entire cost was paid by donations, Bennington Area Trail System funds and a $1,600 grant from the Vermont Mountain Bike Association, Jared Newell, a member of the board of directors of BATS, previously told the Banner.

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A pump track is a short, circular riding track that includes dirt mounds (rollers) and raised turns (berms) where a rider cycles not by pedaling but by carefully timed body motions ("pumping"), while creating and maintaining inertia.

With the nature playground, it took time to get the designs in place, but that aspect of the park is also moving forward, Barsotti said.

Parts are on their way, and the next step is to organize work days to install them. The playground will hopefully be open in mid-September, she said.

"It's a hill, with a lot of the play components built into the hill," she said. "Because the hill is going to be all covered in grass, it will take some time for the grass to be ready."

The vision for the playground would turn it into a "nature playground," forgoing traditional playground equipment and building the components of the playground into the landscape, Barsotti previously said.

"Not just a typical big plastic playset," she said.

The playground plan is supported by a $30,000 grant from the Health Department.

Once the park is active, the town will put up a portable toilet, as restoration of restrooms would take place sometime next fiscal year — not this summer, Barsotti previously said.

Water drainage issues on-site are also "pretty much under control," Barsotti said. "That was all the prep work," she said.

A large excavated area with stone on the site will help to prevent standing water, she said.

All the funding is also in place for the park efforts, she said. "It's just getting everything organized," she said.

The project will also receive matching funds through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This grant from AARP is going to be matched, along with another $2,000 grant from the hospital, Barsotti said.

This is the second grant awarded by AARP in connection with Stark Street Park. Last year, a smaller grant funded a pop-up event at the site to envision what it could be, Barsotti said. Out of that came ideas like the pump track and the nature playground.

Revitalization of Stark Street Park kicked off in fall 2017 and involved local organizations like the nearby Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Catamount Connections, BATS, the Department of Health and the town of Bennington.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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