Sharon’s Open Space and Recreation Plan

The Town of Sharon’s Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) is almost complete. Residents will want to take a look at this interesting document when it becomes available.

Old Post RoadThe plan provides an inventory of Sharon’s open space and recreation resources; a description of the environmental characteristics of the Town and the environmental challenges it faces; a survey of public opinion about the adequacy and best uses of resources; and a five-year proposed plan of goals and actions. The goal of the OSRP is to guide the Town’s future efforts to utilize, maintain, and preserve its recreation and open space resources, and its historic character.

The OSRP also serves as a required reference document for review by the Commonwealth when the Town seeks grants for open space or recreation projects. All Massachusetts towns are required to submit an updated OSRP periodically, and this is Sharon’s first since 1994. Many changes have occurred during the intervening years, reflecting a balance between ongoing development, land preservation, and water and recreation resource management by the Town.

The plan was prepared to conform with the state’s Open Space and Recreation Planner’s Workbook by a 15-member citizen committee representing a wide range of constituencies, including planning, health, recreation, conservation, historical, public works, and business owners.

Sharon has a relatively high percentage of open space. The term “open space” describes open undeveloped areas of both recreation and conservation interest, such as open water and wetlands, parks and green roadside buffers, athletic courts and fields, hiking trails, agricultural or forest lands, meadows, and wildlife habitats. “Protected land” refers to land protected from development by deed restrictions or conservation easements for specific purposes.
The Town’s recreation resources include Lake Massapoag and its beaches; an extensive network of hiking trails; the Frank I. Sullivan Recreation Area, home to the Community Center; the 59-acre Deborah Sampson Park, with baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, a dog park, and community gardens; the 23-acre Walter A. Griffin Playground; the 56-acre Horizons for Youth (“Horizons”) property on Lakeview Street; the 56-acre Gavin’s Pond soccer fields; and Beech Tree Park.

FishingLand areas protected for conservation purposes include the Mass Audubon Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, The Trustees of Reservations Moose Hill Farm, and Borderland State Park. As well, the Sharon Conservation Commission owns about 1,700 acres of protected conservation land—much of it wetlands—and holds conservation restrictions on another 300 acres, all acquired via donations or Town purchase.

The Massapoag Brook Lands, the first parcels acquired by the Conservation Commission (1960s), form a greenbelt of lands alongside four ponds and Massapoag Brook, amidst which is the Massapoag Trail. The Town’s purchase of the 25-acre Pozza property (1998) helped increase the greenbelt acreage, as did its acquisition of the 11-acre Billings Land (2008), opposite Mann’s Pond, which was purchased with private, nonprofit, and Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
Other significant protected land owned by the Town and its Conservation Commission includes the 45-acre purchased Elson property at the head of Sucker Brook (1984); 90+ acres purchased in the historic King Philip’s Rock area (2001; 2008) and the donated 9-acre Monroe and 40-acre Perkins parcels; a lakefront and wetlands portion of the Horizons land (2007), purchased with CPA funds; 25 acres purchased in the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp (2008); and the Arguimbau Farm, through a conservation restriction donated by that family. Parcels contemplated for future preservation include several along South Walpole Street that abut the Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary; parcels along Bay Road and near Borderland State Park; and Camp Gannett land.
The status of many open space parcels continues to evolve. The Town is currently seeking a long-term lease arrangement to maintain and optimize recreation uses of the Horizons grounds and facilities, while preserving its character. The Sharon Hills (Brickstone) project at Rattlesnake Hill will include 286 acres of preserved land under the Town’s agreement with developers, when and if the project is completed. The former Sacred Heart building (at Deborah Sampson Park) is currently the subject of a reuse committee.
To assess public opinion and incorporate it into the Open Space and Recreation Plan, the committee gathered and analyzed residents’ feedback about a wide range of issues related to conservation, recreation, and development. Readers might enjoy looking through the Public Opinion Survey results and analysis in the plan. The committee also hosted several public meetings that generated some rousing discussions but had low attendance.

In contrast, the Survey was a huge success, providing much valuable information. Over 800 individual surveys were completed and returned, a very impressive showing from Sharon’s total of about 6,000 households, each of which received one questionnaire. Each included over 100 possible responses, including written comments, and respondents invested a lot of work to voice their thoughts.

The overall gist of the Survey’s results is exemplified by the response to its first question, Do you believe there is a need to conserve open space and natural areas in Sharon?—which 92 percent of the respondents answered “yes”. Survey results reflected recent townwide demographics and voting trends remarkably well. Respondents voiced overwhelming support for preservation of Sharon’s land and character but also a perceived need for more vibrant commerce, revenue sources, and restraints on spending and taxation. Their many inspired and feisty written comments offer entertaining reading.

Survey results provided some revealing insights. For example, many respondents seemed unaware of the availability of certain resources in Sharon, such as its extensive hiking trails; or they believed that Lake Massapoag has low water quality, which is no longer the case. Partly because of this, one of the OSRP’s five goals for action is to increase community education and involvement concerning open space and recreation issues.
The OSRP is broad in scope. Advancing it to near-completion was no mean feat. The committee met twice monthly for over two years, and individual members logged many additional hours on their own or in subgroups doing research, writing, editing, data entry and analysis. Draft versions have undergone three rounds of review by the Commonwealth. Each has produced additional stipulations and requests. At present the OSRP is tentatively state-approved through 2016.

Unlike its typewritten predecessors, the present OSRP is attractive, reader-friendly, and illustrated with many attractive photos. It also includes a rich trove of maps—geologic, historic, targeted parcels, and many more—prepared by April Forsman, Sharon’s GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator. The plan will be posted at the Town Web site when the state has approved a final version. Print copies will be available at Town Hall, the DPW, the Public Library, the Recreation Dept. and the Conservation Commission office. The entire data set of individual Public Survey responses will also be available, including a print copy at the Conservation Commission office. One hopes that townspeople will take time to look over this document, to which their own voices contributed so strongly.

Jeff Tatro is a member of SFOC and of the OSRP committee. A contributing author of the Open Space and Recreation Plan, he performed much of the data analysis for the Public Survey.