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Posted on: July 8, 2020

Groff Park Playground Now Open

Child playing on climbing structure at playground

The Town Council cut the ceremonial ribbon on the new Groff Park playground and spray park earlier today.

This is the culmination of a five-year effort to renovate this section of Groff Park. The new playground and Spray Park replace a 1950’s wading pool and 1980’s community build playground.

The vision for the project came from Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (LSSE) Commission and staff along with advocacy from members of the community who were seeking improvements to the park and better amenities in south Amherst.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said, “Our goal is to have safe, modern and fully accessible playgrounds throughout the community. I thank the leadership of the LSSE staff, led by Barbara Bilz, and appointed members of the Commission who led this community-based process. I also recognize the leadership of Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek who nurtured these improvements from conception to funding to design to construction. We all know it’s a team effort, but Dave deserve special recognition for his leadership in all aspects of this fabulous new amenity.”

David Ziomek added, “Emphasis in design was placed on making the park amenities as accessible to children with disabilities as possible. The design also took into consideration the rustic, rural, understated feel of Groff. You can see this in the color scheme selected. We wanted to maintain the feel of the park while creating a modern, accessible amenity. We even retained some of the traditional playground equipment based on community input.”

The Groff Park improvements parallel work on East Hadley Road where the Town has dedicated Community Development Block Grant funds for a multi-purpose path that parallels East Hadley Road. One last section needs to be built along Mill Lane once funds become available. The Groff Park playground complements the Town funded, community-led preschool playground at Crocker Farm Elementary School.

Funding for the Park came from the Town of Amherst taxpayers through the Community Preservation Act which contributed $1,160,000 and a Massachusetts Land Water Conservation Fund Grant of $300,000.

There was an interdisciplinary team that worked to design and build the playground that included the Town’s Planning Department, Public Works, and LSSE. The design was provided by Berkshire Design Group. Town staff obtained permits from the Conservation Commission and Planning Board. The Park was constructed by JL Construction with oversight from DPW, Planning & Conservation staff. DPW staff dedicated additional hours to tree and grounds work, parking improvements, and ongoing maintenance and oversight.

Donated to the Town in 1934, by Swiss émigré and successful South Amherst dairyman Ulysses Groff, this fourteen acre farm parcel on Fort River near Mill Lane was principally intended to be a public swimming hole. The stretch of Fort River above the Grist Mill at Mill Valley had long been called “Freshman River” from a tradition among Amherst College upper class of coming to the area to haze freshmen by giving them an unwilling dunking. Amherst’s public health officials declared Fort River to be insufficiently sanitary for swimming so a project to build a dam on Fort River at the park was abandoned. Instead, Groff Park was developed for ball fields, picnicking and fishing.

Groff Park provides access to the Emily Dickinson Trail, built by the American Society of Civil Engineers maintained by the Conservation Department. It has tall beautiful trees, picnic areas with seating, including a pavilion which can be rented. Restroom facilities are available seasonally. A shallow river (Fort River) flows by the park and there are three ball fields in the area. There is no fee to access the Park. The Spray Park is not yet finished but will hopefully be available soon. 

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