The feathery greens of young pines encroach on the grass path that leads into a proposed conservation area near the center of Plympton. One side is skirted by neglected cranberry bogs that have softened into wild wetlands; the other side gives way to higher ground abounding with beech trees and expansive views.
About 2 1/2 miles away in the southernmost part of town, about 300 construction workers a day are toiling at the new Sysco Corp. food-distribution facility, assembling shelving inside freezers as big as a football field and installing 10 electrical rooms to power the plant and its 78 truck bays.
About 500 workers will travel to the site every day once it’s open, and the facility even features a parking lot just for the fleet of forklifts that will carry crates of food around the massive warehouse.
The bucolic tract and the supersized Sysco facility, which is on schedule to open in June, may appear strikingly incompatible with each other. But in this town of fewer than 3,000 people, many are finding it easy to embrace both. Some are even hoping that revenue from the Sysco plant will finally give the town the push it needs to begin preserving its rural feel.
The town’s Open Space and Conservation committees have teamed up to sponsor two proposals that will go before Town Meeting voters May 16. Together, they would create an 87-acre tract of conservation land.
The first proposal asks the town to use $45,000 that was raised through the Community Preservation Act to purchase a 10-acre parcel off Main Street and turn it into a passive recreation area with a walkway over Jones Brook. The parcel, which they are calling Churchill Park, connects to a 77-acre tract that was given to the town years ago but has no street access.
Voters will also be asked to put the second parcel, called Cato’s Ridge, into a perpetual conservation trust. That proposal would require approval from two-thirds of the town’s voters.
‘The town wants this kind of thing. . . . This is a hope; it’s a dream; it’s a goal.’Mayor Balzotti
Next year, when the Sysco plant begins generating revenue for the town, supporters said they will seek additional funds to build a 600-foot walkway over a wetland to improve access to the conservation land.
“If you want to take a walk in the woods in Plympton, you’d better hope you know someone. We don’t have any public parks, at least that you can get to,’’ said Linda Leddy, a member of the Open Space Committee, as she walked across private property to lead a tour of the proposed conservation area.
Although a recent town survey showed that creating open space and maintaining the town’s rural and agricultural character are high priorities for most residents, Leddy said, only about 2 percent of the town’s 14.8 square miles is designated for conservation, one of the lowest rates in the region.
“The town wants this kind of thing,’’ said Leddy. “We haven’t had the financial capacity to proactively plan for it before. We’re getting our economic house in order. Now we need to take some steps to put our values in action. This is a hope; it’s a dream; it’s a goal. This will be our first significant step in that direction. It’s a wonderful community nexus. The pressure is on to develop everywhere in this Southeastern area.’’
Another proponent, Jane Schulze, whose property abuts the proposed conservation land, said the property has an interesting history and contains Native American artifacts, stone walls, overgrown foundations, vernal pools, and spotted turtles, and is within walking distance of Freetown Elementary School.
For the future, Leddy said, “Sysco’s going to help us a lot.’’
The plant is expected to generate $1.5 million a year in taxes and fees, a dramatic impact on a town whose current budget is roughly $7.5 million, said Selectman Barry DeCristofano. The town’s tax base got a smaller boost this year with the opening of a Tractor Supply Co. store near the Carver line.
“In Plympton, we don’t like people to know we are here. Sysco has had the opposite effect. We’re walking a tough line right now. . .,’’ said DeCristofano. “Even the people who are against buying up land and the government setting up a lot of regulations are beginning to understand that we have to gain some control of our future.’’
DeCristofano said the town probably will never meet projections from about a decade ago that the population could grow to 10,000 residents, especially since they was made before the state Title 5 restrictions forced a requirement of larger building lot sizes in wetland areas strewn across town.
However, officials have been trying to attract companies to the Plympton Industrial Park for decades, and the completion of Route 44 about eight years ago made the town far more accessible.
Officials were delighted when Sysco purchased about 130 acres and decided to relocate an outgrown Norton facility. The company has since agreed not to build on the wettest 30 acres. A telecommunications company and a gravel pit occupy the other roughly 80 acres of the park.
Even with the scope of the Sysco plant - 650,000 square feet and a preapproved expansion of about 50,000 square feet - the effect on the town “is about as minimal an impact as you could hope for,’’ said DeCristofano.
The plant has two cafeterias - one for employees and a test kitchen where clients will be shown ways to prepare the food Sysco sells in bulk - its own wells, wastewater treatment, and emergency generators. The trucks will exit and enter via Route 44 and not through town center. Trucks will be serviced, fueled, and cleaned on site.
Town officials expect some impact on public safety needs and are considering a rare Special Town Meeting for the fall to address those needs.
At the Sysco site recently, Ken Thompson, who was semi-retired before taking on the one-year job as Sysco coordinator, said KBR Inc. and a host of subcontractors began work last May and expect to finish in time for the June moving day.
Although moving day will affect traffic, he expects the eventual traffic flow to be spread throughout the day, with trucks departing between 4 and 6 a.m. and returning between noon and 2 p.m.; office workers arriving from 7 to 9 a.m.; and warehouse workers reporting in three shifts around the clock.
The site will employ about 800 people, but about 300 of them are sales representatives who rarely go to the office. The employees include 150 to 200 truck drivers and 100 office workers, Thompson said. Most food will stay at the facility only for a day before being shipped out, he said.
“This has been the best fit for the land, and the best thing for the town,’’ said Thompson.