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Planners to look into linking 'borough parks

July 30, 2012 — The MetroWest Daily News — Local and regional officials are hoping a recently awarded grant will pave the way for a unified park system that would weave its way throughout the “boroughs.”

The Marlborough Economic Development Corporation announced last week that Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough and Westborough had been awarded a Local Technical Assistance Grant by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to explore the idea.

The grant, worth $15,000, will allow planners from the MAPC and the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission to work together on a feasibility study to determine whether a regional parks project could work in the area.

Barry Keppard, a regional planner at MAPC, said that although the potential project is in its infancy, the idea behind it is to link swaths of land in the area physically through trail systems that either already exist or can be created. He said the entire system would be branded and marketed as one collective entity.

Trish Settles, a principal planner at CMRPC, who is also working on the study, said much of the work will be building on ideas that have already been established. The 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership has already conducted studies on open space in the area.

Settles said the potential project would be a draw to the area.

“We would have an Emerald Necklace for the MetroWest, if you will,” she said. “It’s a pretty exciting project. There is a lot of movement around open space in those four towns.”

The grant was applied for by the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation on behalf of the four communities. Arthur Bergeron, chairman of the MEDC Board of Directors, said the concept is actually business-driven.

Bergeron said he and Mayor Arthur Vigeant have visited several local business executives as part of the MEDC’s outreach campaign to find out what Marlborough can do to better accommodate businesses and their employees. He said the pair were suprised by one of the most frequent answers.

“We heard walking trails,” he said. Bergeron said that many employees like walkable areas, which are abundant in other business hubs like Boston and Cambridge but are lacking locally. He said he thought creating those amenities in the area could be a boon to business development.

“I had some interest in some notion of doing something boroughs-wide,” he said. He said MEDC Director of Operations Tim Cummings pointed him to the MAPC Local Technical Assistance Grant, which provides grant awardees with assistance from the MAPC.

“They had a real interest at MAPC,” Bergeron said.

Keppard said the project is a way to create a regional system that is a partnership between towns and private land trusts. He said that in times of lean municipal finances, it could be a good way to create a valuable regional resource without putting too much strain on local towns and cities.

If the feasibility study finds that the project could be executed, Keppard said it could be eligible for further grant funding.

This story originally appeared here.