Neighbors work to save woods from proposed recreation center

Oct 22, 2020

Third-generation Reed Road resident Stephanie Cormier is working to save the woods and wetlands near Lake Noquochoke from a proposed recreational facility.

Some residents have voiced concerns with an article coming up at Town Meeting on Oct. 27 that would allow the town to sell or lease property on the corner of Reed and State roads for recreational purposes.

Cormier — along with her sister Linsey Ferreira, longtime area resident Stephen Fritze, and others — is reaching out to Town Meeting members to ask that the land not be sold. “More than anything, we would really like to see this land permanently protected,” Cormier said.

Four out of five Select Board members supported the article in a heated discussion at a meeting on Oct. 5, although the Finance Committee voted unanimously against recommending it due to members’ belief the land’s value will increase.

Steve Burgo of the nonprofit Burgo Basketball Association had presented plans at a previous meeting to build a recreation facility on the property, including indoor and outdoor space for a wide variety of sports and activities for kids and elderly residents.

“I feel [selling the land] is necessary, I feel this is right, and it’s the right thing to do,” said board member and area resident Shawn McDonald at the meeting.

“I’m not against what Burgo’s doing here, but there’s not a lot of land, and it’s all wet,” said Fritze. “I really don’t think they realize how much of this is actually wet.”

Many of the residents have enjoyed walking the trails on the land behind the Town Donut Shop for decades.

“The trails all started as deer paths, way back,” said Cormier. Now, the residents clear trash and downed trees to keep it maintained.

“Since the corona — and I’m up in these woods every day — a lot more people are walking through here,” Fritz said, noting that he meets people on the trails from Fall River and New Bedford.

Cormier and Ferreira said that they walk the woods at least weekly with their kids and dogs.

“Sections of forest are becoming smaller and more segregated from other chunks of forest,” Cormier noted. “So when we keep eliminating all these little parcels, it’s harder for animals to travel and find resources.”

“It’s not just the quantity of land that is saved that’s important, it’s also the quality,” she went on. “This is a unique habitat very close to the lake, with a lot of wetlands and swamp.”

Wild animals currently living there include box, painted, and snapping turtles, river otters, fox, deer, and fisher cats, along with endangered flora like lady slippers, the residents said.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to build where we are,” said Burgo of the property and his proposed project. “We’ve got a golden opportunity here to help the kids.”

He noted that there are up to 12 acres of wetlands on the property, according to land surveys. “That’s it,” he said. “We are not going to touch the 10-12 acres of wetland.”

As for residents maintaining trails in the woods, he said, “That’s against the law. That’s town property!”

If the family-run association wins the bidding for the property and builds the facility, he said, “It’ll all be privately done, so the town is not going to spend a dime.”

Burgo added that large soccer tournaments planned for the fields could draw in hundreds of people.

“We are gonna bring in so much money to Dartmouth, it’ll be unreal,” he said. “Think what that’s going to do for the hotels, the restaurants, the mom and pop stores, the mall. This is a win-win for Dartmouth.”

But ultimately, he said, “Everything we do is about the kids.” 

For the neighbors, however, traffic is part of the problem. 

With the new Lincoln Park development and another apartment complex set to go in at Joe’s Used Cycles, Fritze said, the Reed Road intersection will already be getting even busier without adding soccer tournaments to the mix.

“Because we’re close to the lake, you can’t even cut down a tree without permission,” Cormier added. “Yet they could come in and clear 30 acres.”

Fritze also noted that there are already underused baseball and soccer fields at Reynolds Park. “Why not utilize stuff that we already have instead of tearing down 32 acres?” he asked.

The neighbors are reaching out to Town Meeting members to raise awareness on the issue.

“We don’t want to come across as NIMBY [Not In My Backyard] — that’s not what this is about,” said Cormier. “This is a unique ecosystem, and we think it’s worth protecting.”

At the same time, she added, “We’ve played in these woods since we were kids...My daughter’s the fourth generation to be playing in these woods. She knows these trails, she knows all the animals, we find the footprints. It breaks my heart to see something happen to it.”