Weston & Sampson, an engineering and environmental services firm, led a Morses Pond (MOPO) public engagement and listening session about their first ideas for an $80k feasibility and design study of the beach area and bathhouse. Weston & Sampson was hired last year by the Wellesley Recreation Department, and the study is partly funded by Community Preservation funds. The MOPO area stretches about five acres and is owned by the town.
Additional to-be-announced community meetings will be scheduled, and the goal is for the feasibility study to be completed by late fall.
During a power-point presentation, Weston & Sampson representatives listed project priorities. (You can see the presentation here.) Topping the list:
- Improve the bathhouse, staff areas, storage
- Improve exterior site and landscape elements
- Enhance water-based play experience and accessibility
- Facilitate walking/hiking and related passive recreational use
- Enhance natural resources and habitat
- Expand user amenities and revenue generation opportunities
The group says they are looking at the entire site from an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) perspective. That statement was met with general approval from the crowd of about 40 Morses Pond abutters, moms of small kids, and general pond users and lovers.
One big idea: to tear down the old bath house and change its location. “There are opportunities here to think about where the bath house is located. Should it be moved or should the face of it be changed in some way?” a Weston & Sampson rep said.
Whether a new bath house is built or the current bath house undergoes renovations, the idea is for the structure to be a zero energy building. Such buildings combine energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to consume only as much energy as can be produced onsite through renewable resources over a specified time period.
Interestingly, during recent site visits, the consultant reps found that MOPO lifeguards and office staff don’t like that when they are in the bath house office area, they are completely cut off from what’s going on at the beach. They say the more staff eyes on the area where all the action is happening, the better. Lifeguards are right on the beach during their shifts, of course. But I’ve seen how, for example, before the beach opens up they tend to congregate on the side of the bath house that faces the beach.
Wellesley Rec Deputy Director Brandon Fitts said the current sight lines of the bathhouse reflect that the beach used to be where the boating area now is situated.
One resident said, “I just don’t want to see it get fancy. I like its simplicity. I would hate to see the beach get built up. I don’t think we need a pizza oven.” The pizza oven reference was in response to ideas about how food might be handled at the pond.
Another resident agreed saying, “I’d like to not have a Taj Mahal of a bath house.”
Judy, a 44-year Wellesley resident said, “I really like the idea of moving the bath house and opening up the view.”
DPW Water & Sewer Superintendent Bill Shaughnessy pointed out that the utilities in general aren’t too good in the area, and that the sewage station is old. He also noted that the area is in a water supply protection district, a fact that will have to inform all decisions made.
Slides of the mish-mash of signage were shown with the suggestion that all the information could be presented in a more uniform and aesthetically pleasing way.
Suggestions for the walking paths in the area were to use landscape design elements to reduce erosion and and stormwater runoff; remove invasive plant species; increase biodiversity; and improve the overall aesthetics. One idea: tear down the fence around the Ice House Pond, remove the invasive species that have gained a foothold there, and add a boardwalk around the pond, with viewing platforms.
There was also talk of possibly removing the locked gate on Turner Road, and of making the area a four-season recreation spot officially. Currently the gate is locked during the off-season. Those who want to use the MOPO area at other times of the year park on Turner Road and make the long walk down to the pond and its trails.
Emily, a one-year resident of Wellesley, said that she didn’t even know about Morses Pond until her family moved into town, and now she and her young children use it all the time. She cited important “choke points” for her — car logistics and the bath house, which she said was “kind of not family-friendly. The doors don’t lock. We have child escape attempts.”
MOPO beach fees generated $159K in revenue last year, and the area has attracted between 18,000 to 28,000 visitors per year in recent years.