NEWPORT — Last month the Newport City Council approved a resolution authorizing Newport Parks & Recreation to pursue a $180,000 grant through the Vermont Land & Water Conservation Fund.
The ambitious request will support a $400,000 proposed renovation to the playground and restroom facilities in Gardner Memorial Park, tentatively scheduled for the 2020 summer season.
Centrally located, Gardner is the most well known of all city parks.
The 20-acre parcel is home to several athletic fields including basketball courts, pickleball, soccer, football, baseball and softball fields.
Each year numerous community events, concerts, farmers markets, and private gatherings are booked at the park, but most users visit for unstructured recreational use.
“On average, we see about 20,000 residents and visitors annually participating in unstructured activities like picnicking, fishing, skateboarding, walking dogs, and ice skating at the park,” said Jessica Booth, Parks & Recreation Director for the City of Newport. “Nearly half of those visitors, about 9,000 between May and November, come to enjoy the playground area.”
Mac McKenny, foreman at Gardner Memorial Park says the playground is one of the biggest draws for the facility despite aging structures and lackluster play equipment.
“The play area is pretty tired and is long overdue for replacement,” Mckenny, a certified playground inspector, said. “Some of the structures are more than thirty years old, and parents who bring their children are always joking about how they played on the same equipment when they were kids.”
Mckenny also says there are concerns around safety and accessibility for some of the outdated structures.
Gardner Park Restoration, a local parent-volunteer group, successfully raised about $15,000 toward the purchase of new equipment over the past few years.
“People don’t know that a single slide can cost $2,000-4,000, and larger structures start around $30,000. It adds up quickly,” says Jenn Smith, chair of the Newport Recreation Committee and lead of Gardner Park Restoration.
Smith says the community is ready for something more than a few replaced elements at the park and they’re pleased to know that fundraising efforts will help the city pursue large grants that require a cash match.
“We’d rather see the restoration funds leveraged for the bigger picture, rather than spent on one or two small pieces of equipment,” Smith added.
The proposed renovation includes a reorganization of the play area layout with more room for picnicking, age-appropriate play structures, accessible surfacing, a sail-shade pavilion, and the biggest crowd pleaser, a new splash pad.
“When we share the idea, that’s always the wow-factor,” said Booth.
Splash pads are outdoor play areas with shoots of water spraying up from the ground. They’re popping up in parks all over the country as a safer, lower maintenance alternative to public pools.
With Gardner’s proximity to Lake Memphremagog and downtown, Booth thinks the addition of a water feature like this has the potential to put the park on the map and make it the destination it should be.
A splash pad in Gardner Park would be one of the first in the state developed in a public park, preceded only by Bennington, which is set to open their pad this spring.
The project at Gardner Park will also include improvements to pedestrian safety and upgrades to the restroom facility to support increased patronage.
While much of the project will be grant funded, Parks & Recreation has enlisted the help of the Recreation Committee to help close the $200,000 fundraising gap between now and July of 2020.
“The Restoration funds are a start, but there is still much work to be done before this plan will become reality,” said Smith.
Over the next 18 months, the Recreation Committee will spearhead a variety of fundraising events and welcome donations from private businesses or families who wish to contribute to the project.
“It’s a lofty goal, but we think the community is ready to make this happen for our families and future children.”
Anyone interested in donating or participating in fundraising initiatives for the Gardner Park playground and splash pad project can contact:
Newport Parks & Recreation at 802-334-6345 or, email [email protected]
Additional information can be found online at NewportRecreation.org or on Facebook at “Gardner Park Restoration.”