WOONSOCKET â€” Good news seems hard to come by lately in this cash-strapped city, but a bit surfaced yesterday as state officials announced a grant of $125,000 for improvements to Cass Park, the cityâ€™s largest tract of open, public space.
The award was among $4.2 million worth of recreational grants for 23 communities announced at the State House by Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit.
â€śDEM is delighted to award these grants that will help Rhode Islanders in the neighborhoods across the state,â€ť Coit said. â€śThe wide range of projects funded by the grants will help enhance the quality of life in local communities and ensure a beautiful Rhode Island and healthy Rhode Islanders.â€ť
All of the funding was drawn from the last round of the stateâ€™s 2008 Open Space and Recreation Bond. Chafee said that the funds will help keep people physically active in public spaces that are clean, safe and attractive.
The Cass Park allotment was one of the first grants City Planner Jennifer Siciliano applied for after she was hired last fall.
The money will be used for Phase II of the Cass Park Improvement Project, which focuses mainly on upgrades to Cass Pond.
â€śWeâ€™re very pleased,â€ť said Siciliano. â€śItâ€™s exciting that weâ€™re going to be able to make these improvements to the pond.â€ť
Cass Pond is a centerpiece of the 55-acre park sandwiched between Cass and Newland avenues. Mothers pushing babies on strollers can often be seen feeding ducks and Canadian geese that congregate in the pond. A thriving population of carp also calls the pond home, and seasonal trout stocks support an annual fishing tournament for young anglers.
Using the state grant, as well as other funds from federal sources, Siciliano said the city intends to dredge the silt-clogged pond and install some type of circulator system in it, perhaps a fountain. In addition to making the pond more attractive to human visitors, the work will improve the water quality and wildlife habitat.
Also, she said, the plans call for the replacement of timber edging that borders the pond and the installation of a rubberized walking path about the perimeter.
Picnic benches, solar-powered lights and, depending on how far the money goes, an osprey tower, are also in the works, said Siciliano.
â€śThat is so cool,â€ť said Yvette Ayotte, a woman who may be better known as â€śThe Park Lady.â€ť She earned the sobriquet by virtue of her morning ritual of walking through the park, picking up litter, and safeguarding the local flora and fauna.
A couple of weeks ago she called up the police and asked them to go after a woman with an unleashed pit bull because she feared the dog would attack two newborn fawn she had just seen in the park.
Ayotte has never seen an osprey, an eagle-like predator, patrolling the waters of Cass Pond, but sheâ€™s seen lots of other waterfowl, including blue heron, diving cormorants and swan. Sheâ€™s pretty sure an osprey will show up if a tower is built for one to perch on.
â€śIâ€™m so happy theyâ€™re going to be doing something to clean up the pond,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s a wonderful park and we should do more to take care of it.â€ť
Ayotte was a member of the Cass Park Improvement Committee, a citizens panel that brainstormed ideas for improving the park after some funding became available several years ago. Phase I of the park improvements consisted of a new playground.
The Cass Park Improvement Plan envisions a five-phase makeover that was developed by Gates, Leighton & Associates, an East Providence-based landscaping architecture company that worked with the improvement committee. GLA estimated that it would cost more than $1 million to fully execute the plan.
The grant announced yesterday calls for the city to match DEMâ€™s commitment with cash or in-kind services. Siciliano said the city plans to use a combination of staff help, volunteers and funding from the Community Development Block Grant program to meet its obligations.
After receiving the grant, the city will solicit competitive bids for the project.
â€śWeâ€™re hoping to have construction happening by fall,â€ť said Siciliano.