Fuller Brook Path is a central part of Wellesley, and any change to the park is going to be a significant undertaking, which is why public meetings on the preservation project are only the second of four planned phases.
The first phase was putting together a master plan, which the town funded in April. As for the current phase, "Public participation is vital, so we really appreciate your being here," said Janet Bowser, Natural Resources Committee executive director, to a room of about 60 people at Town Hall's Great Hall.
The Sept. 15 meeting is only the first in a series. The Fuller Brook Coordinating Committee scheduled a second meeting for Oct 27, and a third for Dec 15, with encore meetings the morning after each.The first meeting was predominantly to explain the condition of the park as it stands, and explain the purpose of the project.
"This is not something you're going to get all of the answers tonight," forewarned NRC Chairman Neal Seaborn.
When the park was partly designed by the firm of Frederick Olmstead, who is famous for the Emerald Necklace of parks around Boston (Olmstead himself was not with the firm at that time). It was intended for sanitation, drainage and pedestrian traffic. Because of this historical connection and its landscape architecture, Fuller Brook Park meets two of the criteria for the park to be recognized on a national level by the National Register of Historic Places.
The park, as defined by the National Register, includes both Fuller and Caroline brooks, connected by a path through Hunnewell field - affectionately called "the missing link" by the committee.
"A major goal of this project is to knit this park back together," explained Lauren Meier of Pressley and Associates.
Residents and abutters came and expressed their feelings on the park, and the predominant concern was paving, especially regarding the gravel section along Caroline brook. On one hand, paving the entire stretch of the Brook Path would make the entire park compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, there are drawbacks, and a number of serious concerns, with this plan.
Referencing a recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, Lisa Abeles of Cottage street said, "Had they decided to make it [Yellowstone National Park] ADA compliant, it wouldn't be the experience it is today."
Beyond aesthetics, making a complete and smooth path will open the park up to new kinds of traffic.
"I'm very afraid it will become a racing way for bikes," commented Alexander E. Von Richthofen, who humorously expressed concern the park will be renamed "Fuller Brook Highway."
Meier responded that there's "no intent to make a highway."
Abeles also conducted an impromptu show-of-hands poll, asking how many residents were for or against paving the path. While only a handful of hands were raised in support of paving, there was a clear majority in the opposite direction.
"It's not going to be as bad as you think," said Robert Sechrest of Allen Road. A former member of the Planning Board, he added that in his experience, most neighbors found the majority of completed projects an improvement. He called paving the Brook Path "like putting a string across the ocean."
Other residents expressed concerns about safety around the park, visibility of the brook, invasive species and storm water control, but the discussion seemed to keep going back to the issue of path paving.
Bowser closed the evening by commenting that the NRC intends to make Fuller Brook an example of a chemical-free lawn. "What you put on your lawn ends up in Fuller Brook," she added.
Alternative ideas for the park are set for the October meeting, as well as further feedback from the public.