Pond advocates swimming with ideas

November 21, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

Swimming not among them

PONDSIDE—Meeting with community members and Jamaica Pond advocates Oct. 23, Boston Parks and Recreation Department commissioner Antonia Pollak made it clear swimming would not be allowed at the pond any time soon.

At the meeting Julie Crockford, Executive Director of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, announced that group is seeking funding to design roadway improvements that would improve pedestrian access at three points around the pond.

The swimming proposal—which had no public support among the about 40 community members and officials at the meeting—was one of the few instances where Pollak suggested a proposal for Jamaica Pond Park was not feasible.

Other ideas discussed were all on the table. Those included increasing music and art programming and opening a food concession at the pond’s bandstand; improving signage around the park; reserving certain hours of the day or a section of the park for off-leash dogs; and closing down one of the roads that circle the pond.

New initiatives, however, will take “collaboration and creativity,” Pollak said. “We do not have the resources to do everything we want to do…I wish I could say there is money falling out of the sky.”

Overall, she said, Jamaica Pond Park is in good shape in large part because the community cares about it. “The pond is one of the most vibrant places in the city. Parks that do not have this kind of constituency are really sad places.”

That sentiment fell right in line with the meeting’s purpose, said Gerry Wright, head of Friends of Jamaica Pond, the group that called the meeting. The idea was to foster collaboration between the public officials, and community groups and nonprofits interested in the park, he said.

The turnout at the meeting included state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez and City
Councilor John Tobin, as well as Gene Survillo, head of the Boston Park Rangers, and Alan Banks of the National Park Service, which manages the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site in Brookline. Also present were members of the local Arborway Coalition and folks from the Courageous Sailing community boating group, and Julie Crockford, executive director of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.

Park Programming

Crockford told the Gazette the Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group for the entire Emerald Necklace park system, is ready to jump in.

“We are very excited about expanding our relationship with Friends of Jamaica Pond and expanding our programming there,” she said.

The group did a movie series at the pond last summer and would be interested in working on art exhibits and music programming, she said.

The Parks Department may collaborate with Boston’s Berklee School of Music to bring more music to the park, Pollak said.

In his comments at the meeting, Survillo said he hopes to work with Wright to expand the Park Rangers’ educational programming, and reopen a small nature center it used to run out of the Park Rangers’ office at the pond.

This is in spite of years of reduced budgets. “We have taken doing more with less to a new dimension, Survillo said.

But swimming was off the table.

“Swimming is a wonderful recreational activity. I do love to swim,” Pollack said. But the Parks Department does not have the resources to monitor an outdoor swimming area, and the neighborhood around the pond is not equipped to deal with the flood of vehicular traffic that would likely accompany a sanctioned swimming area, she said.

Pollak also said the pond would have to be “modified” to be made suitable for swimming, but she did not say how.

The idea of allowing swimming at the pond received a flurry of media attention late this summer after a number of residents wrote letters to the Gazette, some supporting and some opposing swimming, and an article on the subject was published in the Boston Globe.

After Pollak’s statement at the meeting, Wright asked if anyone wanted to speak in favor of swimming. No one took him up on the offer.

Parks Department director of historic parks Margaret Dyson announced there will be a temporary fishing ban at the pond this spring while the department cleans up a water millfoil infestation. Water milfoil is an aquatic plant native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa that competes aggressively with native plants, according to the web site of the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel.
Transportation issues

While closing down Parkman Drive—a roadway on the west side of the pond that runs parallel to Prince Street—would take some effort, it is worth considering, Pollak said.

Local resident Jeffrey Ferris, who described the parallel roads as “too much roadway for the park,” said the idea had been considered before, and included in the Emerald Necklace Master Plan, which was developed by the city in 1989 and updated in 2001.

Andrea Howley, who sits on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and is chair of its Parks and Open Spaces Committee, said Prince Street residents have expressed some concern to her about the idea because it would increase traffic on their street.

Pollak said she is interested in reopening dialogue on the topic with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which maintains the roadway. “It’s a conversation we haven’t had with DCR recently,” she said.

In the meantime, Crockford announced that group has applied for a DCR grant for funding to design three new pedestrian crossings at the pond.

The funding, through DCR’s Office of Public/Private Partnerships, would be matched by the Wellesley-based Solomon Fund, Crockford told the Gazette. It would provide $45,000 to design a new Jamaicaway crossing at Eliot Street and a crossing on Parkman from the pond park to the Parkman memorial on the other side of the street. It would also provide for the design of a crossing and traffic calming measures where Parkman Drive enters Kelly Circle—including potentially squaring the corners at the intersection so cars have to slow down and turn as they enter the rotary.

The actual construction of the Eliot Street crossing was advocated by Sánchez and included in a recently passed environmental bond bill. Completing the plans will make it more likely the project will be funded, she said.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy is in discussion with the Solomon Fund about funding the construction phase of the other two projects as well, Crockford said.

Pollak and Dyson also both said the parks department will soon have to start planning landscaping projects around the pond to deal with erosion. It is unclear where funding will come from for that work, Pollak said.

But, she said, the department may consider installing water-permeable paved pathways to replace the stone dust that now circles the pond.

Those paths would be better for strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles and could act as structural buttresses to protect the sloping pond shores against erosion from overuse. They would also absorb rainwater runoff, so they would not contribute to erosion by funneling that water into the nearby landscape.

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