The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 29, 2003


Attendance down at Great Brook Farm State Park

Ticket machine stands in the parking lot at the state park ready to take your two dollars. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
Recent renovations at Great Brook Farm State Park on North Road were meant to improve access and comfort to visitors, while protecting the natural resources of the popular recreation area. However, the first season after completion of the million-dollar project, many Carlisle residents are not happy with the changes at the park, including newly-instituted parking fees, new guidelines on dog walking, and the generally unfinished, unkempt look of newly landscaped areas. This summer attendance is down significantly on the trails, on barn tours, and at the ice cream stand. But Forest and Park Supervisor Ray Faucher sees this as only temporary.

Fees discourage quick visits

Many residents blame the drop-off in visitors on the parking fees that were instituted for the first time just before the Fourth of July weekend. All-day parking costs two dollars. There is also an annual sticker for $35 which can be used all season at all state parks. On busy weekend days, a park attendant is at the entrance collecting fees. All other times, a yellow ticket machine dispenses the two-dollar tickets that must be displayed on the windshield. Park staff monitor the parking lot every day.

While the fees are not steep, Carlisle residents who were accustomed to stopping for short visits to the duck pond are staying away. For those only visiting the ice cream stand there is 30 minutes of free parking. However, many families feel this is too little time to walk from the parking lot to the barn, stand in line and then wait for everyone to finish their cone. They can get a cone elsewhere.

New post-and-beam building features an open-air pavilion for picnicking and programs, a park interpreter's office, display areas, and restroom facilities. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Impact on farm "devastating"

According to Mark Duffy who leases the dairy farm from the state and operates the ice cream stand, the effect of decreased attendance this summer has been "devastating." Retail operations are important to the farm and to the Duffys' bottom line. He and his wife Tamma have decided not to sell sweet corn this year as there are "volume considerations" to make it profitable. Duffy admits to "a fair amount of frustration."

"While I lease the farm from the state, I am not subsidized," he says, "And I had no input into the decisions on parking and fees." He continues, "The goal was to get more people to come to the park. In recent years the attendance went up and up and up. What's happened will dramatically change who comes to the park." Duffy wonders what will compensate him for his losses. And whether the fees will rise next year.

Too early to judge

New benches wait to welcome park visitors. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Although acknowledging that fees may have some role in diminishing attendance at the park, Park Supervisor Ray Faucher believes that there are other factors as well. "The weather is a huge factor," he points out. "Whenever it is hazy, hot and humid, attendance goes down and we have had terrible weather. It is too early to tell [why attendance is low]. You have to observe a whole season," Faucher says.

The decision to charge for parking was not made locally, Faucher points out. Although new fees were discussed for years, the decision was made by the Romney administration as part of the effort to raise revenues at a difficult time. The fees do not support the state parks, but go into the commonwealth's general fund.

As everywhere in the state, the economy has placed many burdens on the park system, including budget and personnel reductions. Faucher and his team are now responsible for six parks in the Boston area, including Heritage State Park in Lowell, which has hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Resources are spread thinner in all parks.

However, Faucher insists that it part of his mission to do everything to make the farm succeed. "We must evaluate at the end of the season how we can help. There are no pre-set ideas."

Construction completed

As to state of the park , Faucher says that all of the heavy building and earth-moving work contracted out as part of the park renovation project has been completed. The parking lot has been moved away from the pond; a new building with facilities for displays and interpretive programs (and needed restrooms ) is finished; paths have been widened to provide better access for wheelchairs and visitors of all ages; park benches and large stones lining many of the walkways near the pond and farm provide places to sit down and enjoy the view. All this was completed while the park remained open and the farm continued to operate without interruption.

Copious 'adventitious natural revegetation'

Conservation Commissioner John Lee who visited the park this week agreed that the construction work appears complete, but commented that the plantings appeared "quite sad." "There are, indeed, copious weeds (otherwise known as adventitious natural revegetation) which are most likely not the intended vegetative material," he said.

"The vegetation is supposed to be weedy." Faucher points out. "The intent was to create a low maintenance landscape with wildflowers and veches that would be chopped down only twice a year in spring and fall."However, he agrees that some adjustments to the landscaping are needed. Some spots must be re-seeded and some areas of erosion need to be corrected.

Remaining funds taken away

Unfortunately, he says, there is no money left in the project. The building contract was less than the total amount approved by the state, and Faucher had anticipated using the remaining funds (approximately $30,000) to finish the landscaping, obtain new signage, and maybe dredge the pond. However, during the budget crunch last spring, "all the remaining funds were taken away," he says.

Dogs must be controlled

Dog owners who like to roam the trails with their pets off leash have received some stern warnings that more restrictions are coming. At this time the rule is :"Dogs must be under owner control." However, Faucher says that some elderly have been knocked over, and many visitors are frightened by off-leash exuberant dogs. It is likely that a "dogs on leash all the time" policy may be instituted next year.

The once and future popular park.

In recent years, park attendance grew steadily, with 160,000 to 215,000 visitors per year, including skiers. A record number of over 21,000 cross-country skiers came to the park last year, one of the snowiest in history. There is no official visitor count this year as the park's car counter "went on the fritz."

As the new rules and renovations are tested and adjusted, park and farm managers hope that visitors from Carlisle and elsewhere will return in even greater numbers. And eat more ice cream!

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito