After 10 years of back and forth, Wellesley this month celebrated the start of work on what officials say is the largest park restoration project in the town's history.
Fuller Brook Park, a popular 25-acre green space of streamside paths that runs 2.5 miles from Dover Road to Maugus Avenue, will receive a $5.4 million face lift after residents and officials grew concerned that it was deteriorating, affecting both the environment and residents who use the paths for walking and biking.
Crews will be resurfacing the park's worn-out pathways, restoring the brook to its natural flow pattern to prevent erosion, and removing invasive weeds that are threatening to overtake trees and walkways, said Janet Hartke Bowser, director of the town's Natural Resources Commission.
The work comes nearly a decade after the first community meeting was held. Officials said the massive scope and design of the proposal took several rounds of funding by Town Meeting voters and time to map out the details.
"In the end, we have an excellent project to help preserve the park and improve its aesthetics, and improve it for recreation and from an environmental point of view," Bowser said.
"And we have a sustainable park for the long term."
The work is starting in the easternmost part of the park, in Wellesley Hills, and will move west as the project progresses, Bowser said.
The walkways will be filled in with uniform fine gravel. Workers will first dig about a foot below the pathways to improve drainage and reinforce the gravel top, reducing the tendency for ruts and potholes, Bowser said.
"The path system itself is an inconsistent surface — it's hardtop in some places, but some places there's just dirt, and in other places there's a gravel top," she said. "We plan to have a more uniform, rustic path that is more appropriate for the natural landscaping and setting."
Bowser said crews would also improve the flow of the stream by removing concrete barriers put in place decades ago.
"Way back in the 1950s, the natural stream course was straightened because back then they thought it was the right thing to do — to make streams nice and straight so the water can flow quickly," she said.
"But we now know that's not a good idea. Streams like to meander naturally. It slows down the water and prevents scarring and erosion."
They will also address the growth of land-based invasive weeds, such as Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose, and Oriental bittersweet, that have taken over stream banks, edged out plants, and even started to climb up trees.
"The invasive weeds affect the natural diversity of the park and the landscape," Bowser said. "We want a balance, a variety of plants that grow and provide wildlife habitat and food for animals. When invasive plants come in and wipe out natural natives, you're left with an area that doesn't have diversity and is not supporting other environmental values."
Crews should complete the restoration by the end of 2016, she said.
The project comes after nearly a decade of opinion-gathering, designing, and fund-raising — a pace that might seem snail-like, but that officials insist was necessary.
"It took so long because it's such a large and long park, and had multiple issues," Bowser said.
Residents first began calling town officials to complain about the dilapidation of the park around 2004, leading to forums and community meetings so officials could hear and weigh their concerns, Bowser said.
"There are over 500 abutters to the park — this is literally their backyard," Bowser said.
"People were concerned and wanted to be active in the process, and that took time."
The numerous plans and designs needed for the project to move forward also took years, between earning approval from Town Meeting and actually commissioning the work, she said.
In 2007, Town Meeting voted to green light the project's master plan for about $50,000, which took two years to complete, and then another $250,000 for the conceptual design documents.
The town paid $665,000 for final designs and permitting, Bowser said. All the planning costs were separate from the $5.4 million now being spent on construction, she said.
The Department of Public Works also has recommended the town hire two new staff members — one full time and one part time — to help maintain the park up once the restoration work is completed, at a cost of between $50,000 and $100,000 annually, Bowser said.
But Bowser said she thinks the payoff is worth the investment.
"It's our most heavily used park and open space," she said. "It's a wonderful resource to have, so residents can get off the streets and move through the town in a natural environment."
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.