Over the past few years, and particularly over the past year, the level of conflict related to land management in town, particularly related to the Hunnewell Field complex in the middle of town, has increased significantly. After participating in many of these discussions and closely watching others, I’ve come to the conclusion that at the root of the dispute is a disagreement about the appropriate role of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) in promoting active recreation.
My experience, and that of several other playing fields projects, is that some members of the NRC view their role as a gatekeeper rather than as a partner in improving the active recreation resources on the playing fields that they control. This plays out through a pattern of adding steps and gates at what many would consider the end of the process rather than working as a partner through the development of a project. One example of this is documented in Jill Creevy’s letter to the editor related to the recent improvements at Warren and Lee fields.
Another example is that Jim Miller and I co-chaired a Lights Subcommittee of the Playing Fields Task Force that was created at the NRC’s request and included representatives from DPW, youth sports, schools, and the NRC itself. Our report proposed installation of lights at the Track and Field and replacement of lights at Warren Field, Reidy Field, and the Hunnewell Tennis Courts. Our proposal included detailed specifications and pricing for the new and replacement lights, and recommendations for dealing with the noise, traffic, and light pollution concerns we heard from the neighborhood community. In late 2019 and early 2020 we discussed this proposal extensively with the NRC and other town bodies.
Instead of engaging with us around the specifics of our proposal or articulating a clear process to move forward, the NRC elected to request $20,000 from the CPC to do a new study that duplicated work we had already done at no cost to the Town. The report developed by this consultant was not delivered until May 2021, missing the deadline to request CPA funds in 2021. Ultimately, the NRC went to the CPC in February 2022 and asked for $400,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to replace the lights on Warren Field and the Tennis Courts. This request will be voted on at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting. While this is a great outcome, and one I whole-heartedly support, it is two years later than the proposal we made, with no difference in the final design.
While there have been significant town funds invested in improving the active recreational facilities on town lands, the NRC has acted as a follower, not a leader on these projects. Sometimes, when a project comes to the NRC, they have insisted on duplicative and redundant work before moving forward. At other times, as in the case with our 2019 proposal for lights at the track and field, they have simply let the activity languish.
Wellesley has a great spirit of volunteerism and community building, and has the resources to do pretty much anything we choose to do while at the same time acting as an exemplar in maintaining open space and leading in sustainable development. It is time for the NRC to act as a collaborative town partner in leading and improving the active recreation resources on the land it controls.