The Greenwood family from left, Ryan, 3, Kyle, 6, their dad Floyd Greenwood III, and and Floyd IV, cook marshmallows over a small fire while camping in the Serio’s Grove Reservation, on Andover Conservation Land next to the Shawsheen River. Photo by Tim Jean/Andover Townsman Saturday, July 18, 2009

Creating community gardens, a Merrimack River boat launch and an eventual riverwalk that spans the entire length of the Shawsheen River in Andover are among the goals of the town's new Open Space and Recreation Plan.

Following six months of work by a team of town employees and citizen volunteers, Andover selectmen have supported the plan that details every trail, river and public green space in town.

Last updated in 2001, the plan also fleshes out long-term goals to maintain and expand conservation areas in town, in part by hiring a land manager. It reflects feedback from residents on how Andover's 2,000 acres of town-owned conservation land could be more user-friendly," said Conservation Director Bob Douglas.

"We sent out surveys to hundreds of people, and used the results from a previous survey (on conservation land) by Merrimack College," said Douglas. "We met with several community groups and had a public forum at the library. We were very, very lucky - we had a great response from partners in town, including bicycle groups, gardening enthusiasts, trails people and average citizens."

Having an updated plan also makes the town eligible for conservation grant money, said Douglas.

The finished plan is more than 100 pages and contains detailed maps of Andover's green spaces.

"The plan can be a terrific resource for all kinds of groups in town. It's hoped that people can treat it as a living document," said Amy Janovsky, a resident who helped with the plan. "It shows all the of the conservation parcels in town, and puts them together into an overall picture of open space resources in Andover.

"The update also provides a framework for the Conservation Commission, and how they can move forward with getting land," said Janovsky. "It walks the town through the process of honing in on what needs to happen next, and I think that's helpful, articulating it in a public document."

The plan was unanimously supported by Andover selectmen on July 9, and has been sent on to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Division of Conservation Services for final approval.

Residents Howard Kassler and Alix Driscoll helped Douglas present the plan to selectmen on July 9.

Surveys completed by residents during the plan's revision indicated that Andover residents love to garden, said Driscoll.

This prompted a movement to create several community gardens in town, the first of which has begun to take shape at the senior center.

"I'm very excited with the outpouring from the community in support of community gardens," said Douglas. "It's been neat to see that groundswell of community action."

Douglas said he anticipates having a final draft of the plan from the state within a month, and will make copies available at Memorial Hall Library, his office at Town Offices and on the town's Web site, www.andoverma.gov.

Highlights of "five year action plan":

Establish a boat launch on the Merrimack River, usable by citizens and public safety for search and rescue missions.

Town Meeting voters approved the use of a 10-acre parcel on the Merrimack at the Heffron Right of Way, which could host a boat launch. The expense will be covered by Phillips Academy, said Douglas, but "they have gone into a (budget) crunch, like everyone else."

Construct a riverwalk for the entire length of the Shawsheen River in Andover, from the Lawrence to Tewksbury town lines. Portions of the walk could be paved and handicapped accessible.

Douglas said this project is "in the planning stages," and that Paul Materazzo, director of planning, has discussed a possible paved walkway in the Shawsheen area of town.

"That would be the first phase of a multi-phase project spanning into the long future," said Douglas. "In other communities, a river way has been tremendous. It's certainly a very desirable goal to connect the community to the river."

Goal for the Conservation Commission to seek funds annually from the town to be able to purchase open space when it becomes available, and create a "parcels of interest" list of unprotected spaces for possible purchase.

Employ a land manager for the more than 2,200 acres of town-owned conservation land. This goal is on the back burner for now, said Douglas, considering the economy.

"We did have a land manager about five years ago, but it was cut from the budget," said Douglas. "For the meantime, we're making due with a volunteer force."

Create several public gardens in town, organized by a public garden committee. This has already begun, said Douglas, and a public garden is almost up and running at the senior center, with several more in planning.

Want to experience Andover's conservation land first hand?

This summer, the Andover Trails Committee is hosting a series of hikes through Andover's section of the Bay Circuit Trail. Remaining hikes are July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 27, beginning at 1 p.m.

The Bay Circuit Trail is a 200-mile trail that stretches from Plum Island in the north to Duxbury bay in the south, with 18 miles running through Andover. Each leg of the summer hike series will consist of approximately 4.5 miles and will be led by experienced hikers. For more information, contact Jeff LaFountain at jefflaf@comcast.net

Once a month through the summer, Andover's department of conservation hosts overnight camping excursions on town conservation land not normally open for public camping. The next camping trip is Aug. 22, followed by Sept. 19 and Oct. 17.

The campsite, on the shore of the Shawsheen River, has four fire pits, picnic tables and a portable toilet. Canoes and kayaks are welcome. A donation of $5 per person per night is requested to defray costs. Preregistration is necessary. For more information or to register e-mail campconservation@live.com

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