LACONIA — "It's been a long, long struggle," Don Richards said yesterday as work began on the Weirs Community Park, a project he has pursued for almost two decades.
As a backhoe sifted boulders from loam in the background, Richards and his wife Connie joined Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, and his deputy Amy Lovisek along with City Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works, Casey Crane of Broadview Construction Corporation, and Mick Sceggell of Dubois & King, Inc. to mark the occasion.
The park is being developed on a 25-acre wooded tract adjacent to the Community Center/fire station and bordered on the west by Lucerne Avenue, which the city acquired with a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund administered by the National Park Service in 1979. Archaeological studies undertaken in 1990 and 2009 found evidence of an Abenaki village.
Richards said in the late 19th century a local entrepreneur returned from Switzerland intending to build an alpine village on the site, hence Lucerne Avenue. The trails through the property follow the streets intended to serve the subdivision. Between 1890 and 1945 the land served as a stomping ground for the girls of Camp Arcadia, who passed through a stone arch, which still stands, to church services, sing-alongs and other activities.
Most of the land will remain in its natural wooded state. Likewise, the stone walls and stone arch will be preserved. A pavilion with adjoining picnic area and play area will be built east of the existing parking area and an outdoor amphitheater, with seating for audiences of 120, with an attached restroom, which will serve as a dressing room, to the north. The architecture of the pavilion and equipment of the playground will mimic the rustic setting of the park. The existing trails will be rehabilitated with picnic areas, benches and gazebos where they cross one another. A boardwalk, with an overlook at its center, would span the wetland on the site.
The history of the property will be incorporated into the park with signage. Richards said that he is working with the Abenaki Tribal Council to prepare information about the relationship the Native Americans enjoyed with The Weirs and the site in particular. He said that a resident of the Taylor Community attended Camp Arcadia and has the daily logs from 1933 and 1934, which picture how the girls enjoyed their summers on the site.
Richards and Dunleavy credited former director of Parks and Recreation Director Phil Rowley with the success of the project. "He was with us from the very beginning," said Richards, "in the pipe dream stage." Rowley, he said, regularly urged the city to invest in the development of the park as well as negotiated to develop the park with state officials responsible protecting for its archaeological resources and natural environment.
"We crept forward over the years," Richards recalled, "raised a lot of money." He said that after the parking lot was completed most of the money was raised by parking motorcycles during Bike Week. This year the city complemented the funds raised by the Weirs Community Center and Weirs Action Committee with a $550,000 appropriation to complete the project.
Dunleavy said that the contractor estimates the work can be done in 120 days and "weather permitting we're aiming for Memorial Day."
CAPTION: Celebrating the start of work on the Weirs Community Park yesterday were, left to right, Nick Sceggell of Dubois & King, Inc., Amy Lovisek, deputy director of Parks and Recreation, Casey Crane, president of Broadview Construction Corporation, City Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Don Richards of the Weirs Community Center, Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, and Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)