September 20, 2014

Civic Group Tackles Improvements to Essex’s Gateway, the Beloved “Sunset Pond”

Piles of dirt along the pond’s north shore, which will be removed next spring

A group of civically motivated citizens of the Town of Essex have embarked on a major effort to upgrade the Town of Essex’s gateway to visitors and residents alike, the town’s much loved Sunset Pond.

Over the years, unfortunately, this unique property has quite literally gone to seed. Along the north side of the pond, facing West Avenue, mud and debris was painfully prevalent. Also, invasive weeds were growing without control around the entire perimeter of the pond.

In addition, the west side of the pond was overgrown with weeds, and the existing paths along the pond’s edges were overgrown for lack of maintenance. Needing clearing as well was the heavy scrub overgrowth at the west side corner of the pond.

                        To the Rescue, “Friends of Sunset Pond”

As a result of these shameful conditions at the town’s major point of entry, a group of motivated citizens decided to do something about the situation. To do so they formed a group called the “Friends of Sunset Pond.”

Members of the “Friends” include Geoffrey Paul, the head the Paul Foundation;  Jim Godsman, who has assumed the role of the group’s spokesperson; Rick Audet, Director of Essex’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as other concerned citizens.

Sunset Pond spokesperson Jim Godsman outlines the Sunset Pond renewal plans

To date the Friends of the Sunset Pond have raised $30,000 for pond improvements, according to Godsman. $20,000 of this amount has been given by the Paul Foundation, and $10, 000 has come from civic minded citizens and organizations. The Paul Foundation, incidentally, owns the property on which Sunset Pond is located, and it leases the pond and its surrounding shores to the Town of Essex for recreational purposes for $1.00 a year.

The First Phase of the Clean Up of Sunset Pond

At its March 13 meeting the Essex Wetlands and Watercourses Commission gave its final approval for the Friends of Sunset Pond to take steps to upgrade and renew Sunset Pond.

In response to this approval the Friends in a first phase addressed some long overdue maintenance issues, and to clean up generally the pond. As part of this phase, which is presently underway, steps are being taken to restore the banks of the pond to their original parameters.

Also, mud and debris along the northern shore of the pond, which is visible from West Avenue, have been stacked up along the pond’s banks and after drying and debris removal, will be graded, webbed and seeded. Then, next spring in March 2013 the soil will be placed along the banks of the pond.

The Second Phase of the Pond’s Renewal and Renovation

The second phase of the pond’s renewal has been called by the Friends of Sunset Pond, “The Vision.” Although at this point, The Vision “is a concept that is totally unfunded and speculative,” Godsman notes. However, this second phase of the Pond’s  future may include the construction of a walkway around the entire perimeter of the pond, as well as the introduction of new landscaping, plantings and other attractive amenities. “We are exploring The Vision both in terms of resources and plan options,” Godsman says.

However, under neither present nor future plans will the existing trees along the east side of the pond be removed.

The end result of the two phases, according to spokesperson Godsman, will be that, “visitors and residents will have a much improved visual entry to the town.” He adds pointedly, “This will require the development of a solid professional plan that is environmentally-friendly and attractive as an investment to external governmental and philanthropic institutions.”

In short, more fund raising efforts will be required to renew and maintain the pond in top condition.

A Late Arriving Crane Slowed the Effort    

In any construction project, no matter how worthy, and how much desired by the public, there always seems to be a glitch. The glitch in the case of the renovation of Sunset Pond was that the gigantic crane that was to lift the mucky soil along the north shore further upland was late in arrival. The crane was scheduled to appear in August, but it did not show up until October.

The crane, whose late arrival pushed renewal steps back to March 2013

This meant in turn that drying mounds of earth are now visible along the north shore of the pond facing West Avenue.  Furthermore, although they may be trimmed a bit in height, these mounds of earth will remain visible throughout the winter months. However comes spring in 2013, the dried soil will be carefully placed along the very visible north shore of the pond.

Winter Activities to Continue During the Pond’s Renewal

Even though the pond’s north shore along West Avenue may visually leave something to be desired during the coming winter months, ice skating will be permitted off the pond’s south shore. Then, next spring more improvements will come into place, and down the line activities such as fishing, picnics, exercising, and even special fun events, such as regattas for children and fishing derbies will be the rule at “Sunset Pond.”