In fact, so many people showed up for that meeting that Legion Hall was unable to hold them and the floor collapsed under the strain.
After the meeting was moved to the sturdier surroundings of Town Hall, however, Parks Commissioners decided to form a Hazel Grove Planning Committee tasked with studying the Hazel Grove situation and making recommendations for its future use.
Equestrians had argued that Hazel Grove, along with its existing stables, was one of the last public places in Massachusetts reserved for horseback riding and other related activity and that noise and increased activity of sports teams would spook any horses that might still be stabled on site.
The Fairgrounds and Hazel Grove Park have been integral parts of town life for at least 150 years going back to when they were first acquired by the Farmers and Mechanics Club in 1854 and became a popular showcase for Groton’s agricultural community. The park only became town property in 1941, when it was bought from then owner William Walker.
Since that time, Hazel Grove Park has been used solely for agricultural and equestrian events with the Groton Riders and Drivers Club leasing its buildings to stable horses and conduct other equestrian activities.
Over the nearly two years since the Planning Committee was formed, it has met regularly in pursuit of its assigned goal to review the Fairgrounds issue and come up with one-, three- and five-year plans for its future use.
The committee was to take into consideration not only the historic use of the park “but also the current needs of the town and the future vision of Groton and where the park fits into that vision.”
According to a final report by the committee, an early tour of Hazel Grove Park “raised concerns about the condition of the buildings, fencing and general infrastructure” and found that “use of the park seemed exclusive to certain groups” with “no consistent information on- or off-site to determine who could or did use the facility.”
After meeting with local sports groups, reviewing historical records, visiting similar facilities in other communities and meeting with the public, the committee concluded that “due to its location, natural resources, and history, Hazel Grove Park is uniquely suited for the town of Groton for agricultural, equestrian, and educational uses.
“It is the only town-owned Groton site actively supporting equestrian sports,” noted the report.
Laurie Smigelski, an equestrian who had been concerned about talk of bringing organized sports to Hazel Grove Park, ran for a seat on the Parks Commission and won. She was subsequently named as the group’s representative on the Planning Committee.
“I originally ran for Parks because the Fairgrounds needed a voice,” said Smigelski. “But it already had a good purpose.”
Smigelski admitted that at the time expanding the use of Hazel Grove was being considered, the Parks Commission had only been performing its “due diligence” in looking at the possibility.
“I think the Parks Commission handled the whole thing very well,” said Smigelski. “Because the subcommittee they established had people in all walks of life. Everybody came in with ideas that were different, and in the end the group worked well together. They listened to each other and came up with a good plan.”
One of the possibilities suggested by the subcommittee that came to fruition was the establishment of a nonprofit group called the Hazel Grove Agricultural Association, which will have direct oversight of the park and Fairgrounds.
The concept of the association was part of the subcommittee’s final report that was submitted to the Parks Commission last June.
With local equestrians satisfied with the way things have turned out, Smigelski said the new association can now concentrate on the future and how it plans to enhance usage of the Fairgrounds and park, concentrating on restoring its heritage as an agricultural showplace for local farming and husbandry.
“The association is a good group and we want people to volunteer for it,” concluded Smigelski. “We want people to become friends with Hazel Grove Park. We want to try and make the park as self-sufficient as we can. It’s been a long time coming and the park itself will be a good thing that everybody will be proud of. In fact, they’ll be proud of what we’ve done and where we’re going.”
In fact, major work at the park began last year, with the stabilization of the historic Exhibition Hall, where many local equestrians stable their horses.
For information about the association, visit hgaa.org.
Among the events being planned for Hazel Grove over the next several months will be an agricultural fair on Aug. 17.