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CAMBRIA – The walking path is paved, the playground is up and running, and new baseball diamonds and soccer fields beckon for spring as finishing touches on the western half of Cambria Town Park were recently completed.

Now town officials are preparing to closely monitor the expenses of operating the park in the next few years before deciding how to approach its completion.

With public backing, the town borrowed $200,000 earlier this year to complete the work on the park’s western half, which had been slowly but steadily progressing over the past five years. This year’s accomplishments included:

• Near completion of a second baseball diamond – with markings to expand it from 60 feet to 90 feet, as needed.

• Two soccer fields.

• A paved walking trail about one mile in length.

• Installation of playground equipment.

• A basketball court.

• Installation of three picnic shelters.

“We’re committed to staying within a budget,” said Town Supervisor Wright H. Ellis. “We had accumulated some money in a reserve fund to pay down the interest on the loan, so this is not affecting our tax rates. We wanted people to enjoy this park, so we laid out a budget for things that needed to be finished in order to complete the western half this year.”

Plans for the town’s first park grew from residents’ interest when the town updated its master plan in 1997.

But George J. Bush said, “The need has been there for the past 40 years.”

A former Town Board member who served on the board for more than two decades, Bush still heads the town’s Recreation Committee and is overseeing the park’s development.

“I started a baseball team when my son was 12, and he’s 55 now,” Bush recalled. “That team turned into three, which became six, and pretty soon we had our own league. It just kept growing. There was a lot more farming back then, but the community began getting more residential, and [Supervisor] Wright Ellis was very supportive of this idea of a park.”

The town purchased a former 108-acre farmstead on Upper Mountain Road in 1999 with the intention of developing a park. The town procured an early $150,000 matching grant through the State Park Environmental Protection Fund, which was used primarily in establishing nature trails in the park’s wetlands area. Ellis said early estimates of a $6 million price tag for the entire park are probably high.

“I’d say we may have spent $1 million so far – spread over the past several years – but we probably accomplished $3 million worth of work, with the help of town equipment and town employees’ labor,” said Ellis. “That initial $6 million estimated cost was based on contractual prices, but a lot of this work has been done in-house, and when we did have to contract out work, many local contractors charged less as a goodwill gesture.

“We’ve been spending money as we got it, so as not to get into debt or to overreach,” Ellis said.

Early plans called for a “large building with bathrooms – that alone could be $1 million,” Bush said of the $6 million estimate. “We planned for other roadways, more baseball diamonds and someday having lighting for the diamonds – all of that is very expensive.”

“Quite a bit of the work has been done by town employees, so we’ve spent considerably less so far [than estimated],” Ellis said. “For example, we put in a water line about halfway down the length of the park, and a pond, which will help with irrigation of the fields. We hired someone to put the trench in, but the town employees did the rest of the work.

“We lease out 35 acres of the [undeveloped park] property to a local farmer to plant, so that it isn’t overgrown with weeds and brush, and we’ll continue to do that while we operate the park for the next two or three years to see what the operational costs might be, to cut grass, for example, and to maintain the ball diamonds,” Ellis said.

“Our master plan is subject to revisions, because as you go along, ideas can change,” he said.

Ellis said residents’ reaction to the park has been “very, very positive. A lot of people are using the walking trail, and the [first] baseball diamond was used quite heavily this year. We expect the picnic shelters to get good use next year, and we hope to start an entry-level soccer program for the younger kids next year, because our soccer fields haven’t gotten much use yet without a formal program.”

Bush said he visits the park nearly every day and is gratified to see it being put to use by all ages.

“I see people exercising, riding their bikes or walking their dogs,” he said. “I see young families on the playground ... it makes me feel good to see how far we’ve come. The park is shaping up rather well.”

Bush said he also has enlisted the aid of area Boy Scouts looking to complete projects to attain the rank of Eagle Scout.

“We’ve had four projects completed so far – one Scout put in all of the markers on the Nature Trail; one built 20 birdhouses; one made two benches and put up markers on the walking trail; and another put in a memorial, where people could purchase trees and have placards placed near them,” Bush said.

“We have two more Eagle Scout projects under way – one is building 12 picnic tables, including two for the handicapped,” he added. “And the other one is Scout Ben Chatley’s. He’s building a Veterans Memorial in the oval of the walkway, with a lighted flag pole, sidewalks, benches and a boulder with a plaque. It’s about a $5,000 project, and he still needs about $1,000 to complete it. He’s reached out to area veterans groups for help. It’s a very ambitious project.

“And I still have more ideas for boys looking to do Eagle Scout projects,” Bush said.

“I like working with the Scouts. This way the town gets projects done, and the Scouts know they’ve done something for the town park, and, therefore, they have some ownership in the park.

“And the town employees take great pride in the work they do here – their kids will be using this park,” Bush said. “And they will be involved in the maintenance forever. Once you build a park, you have to take care of it.”

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com