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Ashland State Park reopening next year

Ashland State Park will be officially reopened next year for the first time since budget cuts in 2009 left the recreational area unstaffed and unmaintained, according to state and local officials.

The officials said the park should be spruced up and ready for use by Memorial Day.

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The 470-acre park, off Route 135 near the Ashland Community Center, includes the only public beach in town, a boat ramp, fishing spots, picnic areas, and hiking and biking trails.

“It is absolutely beautiful, a real gem,” said state Representative Tom Sannicandro, who along with state Senator Karen Spilka, a  fellow Ashland Democrat, and town officials pressed the state to restore funding to the park.

“We had a lot of conversations with Richard Sullivan,’’ who is secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, “and he was receptive to our arguments,” Sannicandro said.

The Ashland park was among several properties reclassified as “unstaffed” by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to trim the agency’s budget, according to DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port. Ashland was selected for cuts because of its proximity to Cochituate State Park in Framingham and Hopkinton State Park, Port wrote in an e-mailed response to questions.

Since Ashland’s closing, Hopkinton State Park has seen its usage more than triple, with attendance figures jumping from 118,689 in 2008 to 398,705 this year, she wrote.

“Hopkinton fills up and the parking lot closes early during summer days,” Spilka said.

While more people were looking for nearby recreational opportunities, conditions at Ashland State Park were deteriorating from lack of maintenance and capital investment, she said. “We were losing a valuable asset.”

After approximately six months of meetings, funding was restored to hire lifeguards and staff for the Ashland park, as well as to test and treat the beach water if necessary, clean up invasive plants along the beach, replenish the sand, and repair the lifeguard stand and boathouse, according to Steven Mitchell, chairman of the Ashland Board of Selectmen.

The cost to get the park ready and to hire lifeguards and staff is estimated to be $97,600, according to Port.

A portion of the money will come from parking receipts, which under a change approved by the Legislature will be kept by the DCR for use on its parks, rather than be put into the general fund, according to Spilka.

She estimates parking fees will generate $20,000 to $25,000 annually, and help offset the estimated $75,000 to $85,000 cost of staffing and maintaining the park.

“We already have a jewel of a resource that we should take advantage of and maintain,” Spilka said, adding that she will also continue to work to increase funding for parks.

Ashland State Park is one of two unstaffed facilities that are in line for services to be restored next year, according to Port.

Berry Pond at Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, Lake Lorraine in Springfield, Dighton Rock State Park in Berkley,  Fearing Pond at Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, and Windsor State Forest in the Berkshires remain unstaffed, according to Port.

Dean Pond at Brimfield State Forest was to be staffed and opened last summer, Port said, but aquatic work delayed the opening, which now is expected next summer.

While Ashland State Park was unstaffed, it was still open to the public, and people continued to use the beach without lifeguards and water tests to make sure bacteria levels were safe, according to Mitchell.

However, a summer camp offered by the town’s Recreation Department had to stop using the beach once it lost the lifeguards.

“The kids used to be able to walk along a path from camp right to the beach,” he said.

The state park has been used in recent years primarily by people walking their dogs off-leash, according to Mitchell.

Spilka, who used to live on Warren Road by the park, said she walked, biked, and swam there frequently when her children were young.

“It was a real community resource,” she said. “This is a win for the town, for the residents and for the state.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkan­ian@gmail.com.
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