Chase Park Labyrinth Focus Of Neighbors' Concerns

By: Tim Wood

Land off Cross Street was given to the town in 1953 by Avis Chase as a public park in memory of her husband, Captain Silmon G. Chase.

Discussion Of Use Of The Park Postponed

CHATHAM – A discussion of neighbors' complaints about the use of Chase Park, scheduled for Monday's board of selectmen's meeting, was postponed to provide staff more time to research issues related to the Cross Street park, and to allow the full board, as well one of the chief complainants, to be present.
Twelve property owners on Grist Mill Lane, Shattuck Lane and Shattuck Place signed a petition to the park and recreation commission asking that immediate steps be taken to curtail “the ever-increasing use of Chase Park for all manner of activities by groups that have no connection to the town.”
The neighbors appear most concerned with activities related to the labyrinth at the rear of the park, and there has been friction and confrontations between people walking the labyrinth and neighbors.
“The activities, although invariably characterized by the sponsors as peaceful and tranquil, have the opposite effect on the immediate neighborhood,” chiefly due to increased parking and foot traffic, the petition reads. Participants “inevitably park on the shoulder of Shattuck Place, clogging that roadway and impacting the adjacent private ways, creating a nuisance for those of us who use those ways as access to our homes.”
Along with the petition, selectmen received a letter from Debbie and Ernest “Tripp” Walen, whose home is directly behind the labyrinth; they also signed the petition. They wrote that the “peaceful and tranquil nature of Chase Park has significantly changed” with the labyrinth, the new croquet court and a “yard hydrant” that was installed between the labyrinth and the Godfrey Grist Mill. Park Director Dan Tobin has said that the “hydrant” is a water spigot installed to provide water for lawn and other plantings after a sewer line was placed across the park to avoid tearing up adjacent private ways. The Walens also refer to a planned accessible path, funded by community preservation funds, and a Revolutionary War memorial that may be located in the park.
The Walens question if Pilgrim's Landing, a nonprofit organization that maintains the labyrinth and “claims on their website that they are the 'home'” of the labyrinth, is profiting from the labyrinth. A list of items the group wants to discuss includes “labyrinth religious overtones by Pilgrim's Landing.”
Abutters have not been notified of recent changes to the park, they wrote.
“Once this was a great park, people would come to walk around usually with their dogs, enjoy a picnic, or visit the grist mill. It is much different today,” the Walens wrote in their letter.
They question how the labyrinth and croquet court got started and ask that those who may oppose future events or projects be allowed to speak before final decisions are made.
“We are writing this letter because we would like to be heard by local authorities regarding Chase Park before it's too late,” the letter reads.
The petition also asks the commission to conduct an in-depth investigation of Avis Chase's gift of the park to the town “to ensure that the purpose of the gift has not been exceeded.” Even if there is no violation of the original conditions of the gift, “the commission should recognize that the park, given its size and location, simply cannot handle the number of activities which have been authorized to date. There may be other sites in town which are better suited for such activities.”
Avis Chase, who owned homes on the shore of Mill Pond, died on Oct. 19, 1953. In her will, she left three and a half acres of land on Cross Street, “across the pond from my summer residence” to the town “to be used as a public park.” She also included $10,000—increased in a codicil to $25,000—for the town to use toward maintenance of the park. The codicil also added that the gifts are in memory of her husband, Silmon G. Chase.
“I hope the town of Chatham will call the park 'Chase Park' in memory of my husband and as a kindness to me,” she wrote.
The town complied with her wishes on Feb. 15, 1954, when town meeting voted unanimously to accept the gifts and designate the property “Chase Park.” The property was placed under the jurisdiction of the park department.
A year later town meeting voted $8,500 to move the Godfrey Grist Mill to the park. In its 1956 town report, the park commissioners wrote that the “old mill” was in its new location and they believed that Chase Park would “soon become one of the main attractions that the town offers our summer visitors.”
Over subsequent years a flagpole, rest rooms and bocce court were added to the park.
In 2010, the Chatham Clergy Association decided to raise money for a labyrinth as a gift to the town on its 300th anniversary. After nearly a year of discussion, the park and recreation commission voted to accept the gift and to allow the labyrinth to be built on park land between the grist mill and the Walen property on the southern boundary of Chase Park. Selectmen voted to approved the gift in September 2011. In July 2012, the 44-foot diameter labyrinth, based on a 13th century labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, was dedicated.
Selectmen Chair Shareen Davis could not attend Monday's meeting, and neither could the Walens, so the discussion was postponed to sometime after Labor Day.