EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 5, 2013

Editorial: City parks should never require a fee

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Some Haverhill leaders want improvements and better maintenance at the city’s popular Winnekenni Park. Those are grand ideas. Charging an admission fee to access the park is not.

Winnekenni Park is a Haverhill gem appreciated by residents and nonresidents alike. The 700-acre property has miles of trails, Plug Pond swimming area and the famous castle on the hill from which the park takes its name. The park has hundreds of visitors on a typical summer day and is well-used throughout the year.

City Councilor Thomas Sullivan has a comprehensive plan for restoring and improving the park. He presented the plan to the City Council and Mayor James Fiorentini last week.

Sullivan’s plan begins with basic maintenance and extends to more imaginative ideas such as bringing castle-themed paddle boats to the basin or nearby Plug Pond. Sullivan suggests installing racquetball, badminton, volleyball and bocce courts near Plug Pond. He would improve the playground area near the park entrance and possibly add a water spray there. He suggests moving a popular winter sledding hill near the entrance away from the road that winds from the bottom of the property to the castle. Sullivan also wants to convert a vacant, city-owned home near the park entrance to a visitors center, meeting facility and rest-rooms.

Sullivan’s maintenance plans include work around the park entrance and trimming brush that blocks views of the park from Route 110. He wants to thin the forest in the park so that the castle can be seen from the highway and so nearby Kenoza Lake can be seen from the winding drive up the hill.

Councilor William Macek has scheduled a meeting of his Natural Resources and Public Properties Committee for April 11 to hear reaction from residents and city department heads about the plan. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the council’s City Hall office.

Sullivan’s plans are worth consideration and although some aspects may be a bit ambitious, certainly improved maintenance of the park is possible.

More problematic is Sullivan’s suggestion that the city charge a fee of $5 per season for residents and $10 for nonresidents using the park that would, along with state grants, fund his suggested improvements.

“No one wants to talk about the fee, but I still think a small fee is a good idea to pay for upkeep,” Sullivan told reporter Shawn Regan. “We need at least a small source of revenue.”

Charging a fee to use Winnekenni Park goes against a long tradition of the American park as a free and open oasis from the rigors of urban life. There is no charge to use some of the greatest American urban parks, such as New York’s Central Park and the Boston Public Garden and Common. Why should Haverhill residents pay for the use of a park that has long been their birthright?

In fact, Haverhill residents already do pay for the use and upkeep of Winnekenni Park through their taxes. The idea that park users should pay is an extension of the misbegotten concept that municipal services once provided as a matter of course are now “extras” for which residents owe something more.

The idea is preposterous and should be rejected whenever it appears.