In the summer of 2017 Carlene Hempel was in Maine on vacation when she speed-dialed Steve Irza.
“I had just found out that the Gerow property on the shore on Warner’s Pond was about to come on the market and we had to act fast,” she recalled.
Steve and Carlene were members of the West Concord Advisory Committee, which had identified the parcel as a key West Concord Village open space.
They reached out to Marcia Rasmussen, director of planning and land management for the town of Concord, and quickly developed a proposal to preserve the seven-acre property, which had been owned by the Gerow family since the 1940s and included a small house.
Later, Jeff Collins, also a member of the advisory committee, stepped up and joined the effort.
There was the possibility that the land could be developed with as many as eight houses.
“Sale to a developer would essentially close off the pond as a private amenity,” said Jeff. He described the waterfront property as “a hidden gem that could become a vibrant community asset.”
Now that vision is coming to fruition. A large pavilion, accessible walking trails, benches, restrooms, and parking are in the final stages of construction. Adjacent to the nearly completed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, Gerow Park offers bucolic pond views and a forested amble through white pines, pitch pines, and mixed oaks.
Steve said that the early support of town officials, including Rasmussen and former Town Manager Chris Whelan was critical. “The Gerow family as well must be thanked for their patience,” he said. “They liked the idea of a park.”
Enthusiasm for creating a recreation resource extended to Town Meeting with approvals of $2.7 million for land acquisition and $1.7 million for design and construction.
Housing advocates raised concerns about razing a small affordable house so the final plan includes a home to be built by the Concord Housing Authority on Commonwealth Avenue.
However, for the time being, it’s unclear when final work will be completed. Concord’s Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd said that project has encountered schedule and logistical challenges due to the Covid 19 pandemic that have delayed the original completion date of September 2022. The Town is currently working with the contractor to resolve those challenges. A new completion date has not been set.
Once over these bumps in the road Hempel is confident that the end product will be an “Innovative, creative, and beautiful thing.”