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Voters protect Howard Park, approve Wheeler Road bridge

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TOWNSEND — The 40-acre Howard Park is now permanent park land, following a unanimous vote of annual Town Meeting.

Cemetery and Parks Commissioner John Barrett reminded residents that the park includes local landmark Black Rock, and the Old Swimming Hole as well as the lesser known “Boy Scout Bridge” built and maintained by Eagle Scouts.

Asked for assurance that no building could ever take place or whether vehicles are allowed inside, Barrett said the land, which includes many walking trails, is to be kept in a natural state.

“There is no formal law prohibiting use of vehicles; however, it would be virtually impossible to drive into the heavy woods,” he said.

The park’s main entrance is at the end of Howard Street. It can also be accessed at the trail head at Hawthorne Brook Middle School, where parking is available. It has grown from a 4.5-acre parcel purchased in 1905 from Albert S. Howard with donated money.

Camping by Scout groups is permitted with Parks Commission approval. The fire chief can approve use of cook fires. There is a carry-in, carry-out policy in place, and animals brought on the trails must be leashed and picked up after.

In a second land-related vote, residents unanimously approved the taking of permanent and temporary easements to allow for replacement of the Wheeler Road bridge over Willard Brook by the state.

A third vote, which included one or two negative responses, accepted Peter J. Drive as a public way on a motion by selectmen Chairman David Chenelle.

The scenario is unique in that the 11 homeowners on the dead-end off Dudley Road own the land that is the right-of-way, and must unanimously agree to an easement for construction of the road. Nine of the 11 have done so.

“If we don’t do it now it will forever be a private road,” Chenelle said, making good on a promise to the developer to recommend Town Meeting passage made during a previous selectmen’s meeting. The town plowed the road last winter. Chenelle argued for abutters’ rights to get that service.

Finance Committee member Paul Concemi, concerned about the forever private comment, asked if the matter could be deferred to the fall in order to “get it right.”

One speaker countered that people who pay taxes should get town service.

Chenelle said the plan meets town bylaws and waiting until fall Town Meeting and the required approval of votes by the attorney general’s office could delay passage until January and it snows.

A sheet provided by the Planning Board indicated the plan is “complete and sufficient,” noting that only one house lot remains to be built upon.

The article carried on voice vote, with perhaps two votes against.

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