Chatham selectmen should move quickly to address neighbors' complaints about the use of Chase Park.
We say “use” and not “ever-increasing use,” as it’s worded in a recent petition park neighbors submitted to the park and recreation commission, because in our view, Chase Park is one of the most underutilized public spaces in town. The land, off Cross Street, was donated to the town in 1953 by Avis Chase “as a public park,” according to her will. To us, that means all members of the public are welcome to use it, within rules established by the park and recreation commission, which, by the way, apply to all town parks. That basically means that large gatherings or events require permission and sometimes permits, but that otherwise, anyone is welcome to use the space for picnics, strolling, dog walking or just relaxing. Seems like a good definition of a public park.
Along with the Godfrey Grist Mill, which was moved to the park shortly after the land was donated to the town, Chase Park hosts the Chatham Labyrinth and new croquet court (which was approved by town meeting). Only one large event is held at the park, the annual Festival of the Arts, which happened last weekend. The concern of neighbors appears to focus mainly on the labyrinth, which was donated to the town in 2012 by the Chatham Clergy Association as a gift for the town's 300th anniversary. Petitioners say parking and foot traffic from labyrinth events sponsored by Pilgrim's Landing spill over onto their private ways.
There is of course a remedy for that: asking the police to ticket vehicles or remove trespassers. The remedy for groups of people walking the labyrinth—an inherently quiet and contemplative act—is more difficult. Pilgrim's Landing has maintained the town-owned labyrinth at its own expense and sponsored one event there a month, which attracts maybe 20 or 25 people, tops. The nonprofit had asked permission to hold a “unity festival” at the park, but withdrew after neighbors objected (we wonder: who objects to a “unity festival?”). Perhaps those living there now don't remember what that rear section of the park was like before the labyrinth; overgrown and unmonitored, it was often the scene of late-night drinking and other activities that raise more concern than a silent meditative walk.
In their petition, neighbors say that given its size and location, Chase Park cannot handle the number of activities occurring there. At more than three acres, it is nearly an acre larger than Kate Gould Park, where thousands of people congregate every Friday night during the summer and numerous festivals are held throughout the year. We would argue that use of Chase Park has, in fact, diminished in recent years, now that the Art of Charity doesn't hold its annual action there and the bocce/petanque court is largely unused.
Selectmen should hear the neighbors' concerns now, make sure that adequate regulations are in place to ensure oversight of large activities in the park and attendant parking and traffic issues, and thank them for their input. But in no way should use of Chase Park by anyone—be they New Age seekers or white-clad wicket enthusiasts—be further restricted. The park is an underused gem that all should be able to enjoy.