Ninigret Park Proponents Backpedal on Bike Path

The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is shared with us here by the author Ruth Platner

proposed pathways in blue and green
proposed pathways in blue and green

Leading up to the June 1st Charlestown Budget Referendum, proponents of the $1 million bond for improvements at Ninigret Park used a blog and Facebook page to showcase ways the money could be used to improve the park.

The most popular idea was one posted on May 14. Bond proponents wrote, ”Proposal from Bicycle Pathway ad hoc Committee underlines the motivation for Ninigret Park [bond] petition” and “Give the message to our Town Council that our residents support improvements like this, Vote Approve for Petition #1, on the June 1 Financial Referendum.” When linked from the Support Ninigret Park Facebook page, the posting elicited 107 likes and 24 shares. A companion post about the proposed concert center garnered only 7 likes.

The bicycle committee proposal is for a multiuse pathway that winds around Ninigret Park and can be used by families and other non-competitive cyclists, inline skaters, walkers, joggers, and others. The pathway would eventually be extended to the beaches and beyond.

At a May 11 Town Council meeting and in the promotional story, Cheryl Dowdell, Vice-Chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, stated that the proposed pathway is supported by the Ninigret Park Master Plan. Ms. Dowdell said, “this jives so beautifully with the proposed changes to the Master Plan and to the original Master Plan – the Parks and Recreation Commission strongly encourages approval”

But when the Town Council approved the same pathway on June 8, just one week after the Ninigret bond was approved, members of the “Support Ninigret Park” group didn’t want it funded with bond money or existing Ninigret Park funds and some didn’t want it created at all. The same people who had used the new trail proposal to raise support for passage of the bond, now say that new multiuse trail is not part of the Ninigret Park Master Plan.

Jim Mageau called the pathway an “asinine idea” that was in conflict with the Park Master Plan. Paula Andersen and Jodi Frank, who had also campaigned for the bond, said the trail committee should be made to raise its own funds. Cheryl Dowdell said the pathway is not supported in the Master Plan or in the 2014 revision and Deb Carney said money for multiuse trails couldn’t come from the bond.

The 2004 survey used to guide the Ninigret Park Master Plan showed 60% of respondents wanted more walking and jogging trails as their first choice for improvements in the park. This was, by far, the single largest preference of respondents to the 2004 survey. This preference for trails is mirrored in the popularity of the Ninigret bond proponents’ own postings about the proposal from the Bicycle Pathway Committee.

This present about face by the bond proponents isn’t a big surprise, but it is still a disappointment. We’ll find out later this month if other park improvements advertised to gain support for the bond will be abandoned for a different agenda.

Addendum – June 21.

Debra Carney has written to the Westerly Sun taking issue with my letter above. Here’s what she wrote in quotes and italics ” The first issue is the untruthful statement made that reads, “Deb Carney said money for multiuse trails couldn’t come from the bond.” I never said that. In fact I said absolutely nothing about multiuse trails. That statement is false.” So wrote Ms. Carney.

In my letter I don’t claim to quote her, I simply describe what she said. I have now listened again to the tape of the meeting and made a transcript of her words. During a discussion of where funding of the multiuse trail proposed for Ninigret Park would come from, she said “it really can’t come from the bond” This has the same meaning as what I wrote in the letter above. My statement was neither false or untruthful, it was what she said at the June 8 meeting.

Ruth Platner

Ruth is the current Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission and has been involved in land use issues in Charlestown for over 20 years.