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Councilors approve Gull Crest Master Plan

Echoing overwhelming support from the community, Town Councilors Monday night approved a master plan for development of a trail system at Gull Crest.

Before going to the Planning Board for the proper permits, however, members of the Conservation Commission will meet with the town engineer to identify which trails would be most suitable for cross-country skiing.

Town Manager Michael McGovern suggested the meeting in response to the handful of speakers who, while supporting the plan overall, suggested widening some of the trails on the plan to accommodate cross-country, or Nordic, skiing.

Much 113-acre Gull Crest property, which was purchased by the Town in 1998, includes trails popular with snowmobilers, hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers. The land is near the town center and is adjacent to the transfer station.

"Six-feet is pretty narrow for anybody to ski on and successfully pass another person," said Oakhurst Road resident David Wing, who said he teaches cross-country skiing. He said eight feet would be adequate, but 12 feet would be better.

John Upton and Murray Barton, speakers who have been active with the High School's nordic ski team, also asked that at least some of the trails be wider not only for student skiers, but for skiers in the community as well.

Rather than amend the language of the plan, however, Conservation Commission members will meet with the town engineer to identify which trails would be most suitable for cross-country skiing. The Conservation Commission will then go to the Planning Board to obtain the permits needed to make the plan a reality.

No time-table has been set to complete construction, however, and the Conservation Commission will not approach the council for funding until specific projects come up, said Commission Chairman Mike Duddy. A master plan is needed, however, to obtain permitting for the trails at the outset, and to serve as a blueprint for when volunteer labor and funding for materials becomes available.

The system of trails would serve as the focus of a townwide trail network envisioned in the Town's greenbelt plan. The greenbelt plan was established in 1988, but revised in 2001 to resemble a hub-and-spoke configuration. The Gull Crest property would serve as a hub, connecting systems to the north and to the south.

A key element to the greenbelt, and a priority for the Gull Crest plan, is bridge at the north end of the Gull Crest property which would connect it to the Town Center by an existing town easement. The envisioned 12-foot span would cross the headwaters of the Spurwink River and associated wetland, and be a "signature bridge" for the property, Duddy said.

"The whole idea is to provide users in the town with a variety of walking paths, or skiing paths," Duddy said. Users could walk the entire 4-mile loop, or make a shorter walk of any of a variety of segments.

The seven speakers who addressed the council at a public hearing Monday lauded the Town, the council and the Conservation Commission for having the foresight to acquire the land for open space and passive recreation.

Ogden Williams, a Beach Bluff Terrace resident and a teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School, called the Gull Crest Master Plan a "reasonable, well-conceived, common sense document," and was especially pleased that the bridge connecting the parcel to the Town Center was the priority. Students in all grades will be able to do all kinds of things with such access to the property, he said.

Sarah MacColl, Avon Road, said she served on the Pedals and Pedestrians Committee that studied the feasibility of a bike path on Shore Road several years ago. She lauded the plan as well, saying it fit the former committee's thinking that hiking and bicycling should be channeled toward wilderness areas and away from roads. "Everyone will benefit from this holistic approach, as opposed to dodging cars on Route 77 or Shore Road," she said. "To be off the road is just so much more pleasant an experience."

The Gull Crest Master Plan does assume volunteer labor for trail construction, and all speakers, including a Boy Scout Master, said that they or the groups they represent would be willing to help.

Two weeks ago the Town Council approved purchase of an easement that would connect the southern end of the Gull Crest property to Fowler Road. The $20,000 purchase, funded by the town's greenbelt account, was part of an agreement between the buyer and seller of property at 183 Fowler Road. Town Manager Michael McGovern said that sale of the property is expected to close in early January.

The Conservation Commission is expected to meet with the Town Engineer at their meeting Jan. 14.