Friday, August 26, 2011

A "Way" Forward

Construction begins! (Photo by Matt Rohn)
If you travel on West Second Street, you’ll see heavy equipment moving dirt around the south end of Way Park.

This work will improve the topography, lay paths, prepare rain gardens, and seed grass on a bed of sustaining soil. It marks the next essential step in the realization of the Way Park master plan, making visible years of planning and action by the Friends of Way Park (FWP), the Park & Recreation Advisory Board, City Council, and city staff.

The path to this point has not always been straight or clear, nor have various groups’ interests always been aligned. Hundreds of hours of dialogue, signature-gathering, public meetings, listening, planning, revising and rethinking have been required for the city, parks board and FWP to forge a partnership that has produced a “way” forward in a time of strained budgets.

Lucile and Laura Way first saw the value of a park on Northfield’s west side. Strapped for money in 1933, they made an arrangement for the city to purchase some of the land their family had long farmed, but at a greatly reduced price if it became a park. They knew that children and adults needed a place to be in touch with nature as Northfield expanded west. When the city five years later sought to build a hospital in part of the park, the visionary president of the hospital board, Leal Headley, secured a federal grant not only for the construction of the building but also for landscaping that unified the hospital grounds and the park. He and his wife committed personal funds to support the landscape design.

Through the years there have been many “friends” of Way Park — pulling weeds, sweeping gravel off the playground sidewalk, clearing snow from the skating rink — but the organized Friends of Way Park was formed in 2004 when the city announced that it was moving the hospital.

The first task was to convince the city that the land the hospital had vacated should return to the park the Way family had originally envisioned. As planning for this full Way Park proceeded, FWP raised money, gathered the views of residents, and worked with the parks board, city staff, architects and City Council to accomplish as much as possible with the resources available.

FWP stays attentive to Way Park. It raises money to make sure funds always exist for its development. It has “adopted” Way Park to formalize the informal maintenance already taking place. It sponsors community-building Park events. And its members brainstorm with the city to devise ways to husband limited funds so the park can continue to develop even in hard times — when people need it the most.

A guest column in the Northfield News by Sarah Carlsen, chair of the Friends of Way Park Board.

This month’s construction will produce Way Park’s new foundation. Please join us at the park at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30 for a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony. We acknowledge the people and process that have brought us to this day and pledge to continue the creative collaboration necessary for fulfilling the vision for Way Park.