by Stephen Devoto
On Friday, the city announced that it would offer Cucia Park to the Army as a potential site for the military training facility in Middletown. This decision followed preliminary discussions by the advisory panel convened by Mayor Giuliano to represent the interests of the non-federal stake-holders during the Army's site selection process.
Cucia Park is one of two developed parks in the Westfield section of Middletown. Cucia Park consists of about 40 acres on Smith Street (no relation to Smith Park), bordered by developed industrial land on three sides and by I91 on the fourth. It is about 3 blocks from Boardman Lane, in fact at their closest they are only 1000 feet apart. However, the Boardman Lane site that was chosen by the army is in a different world from Cucia Park. Whereas the Boardman Lane site is on a small country lane and bordered by houses and farms, Cucia park is on a very wide road and embedded within very developed Industrial lots. Here is a link to a parcel map.
I visited Cucia Park on Friday morning between 7:30 and 9:00, to see what Middletown might be giving up. The intersection of Smith Street and Miner Street is near the center of old Westfield. The Westfield cemetery is across the street, the 3rd Congregational Church is one block away, and the Westfield Fire Department (built on the site of the old Westfield School) is only two blocks away. Smith Street curves down under I91, and in less than half a mile changes from charming residential to completely industrial as it approaches I91. Large manufacturing and engineering companies have their warehouses on Smith Street and Industrial Park Road (which intersects Smith). The entrance to Cucia is across the street from Industrial Park Road. The land was purchased by the city from a brick manufacturing company in 1974, and dedicated as a park in 1975.
Cucia has about 3 acres of developed land, with mowed grass under pine trees, surrounding a pond. Several picnic tables overlook the pond. I locked my bicycle to a tree in the gravel parking area, and picked one of several well-worn trails leading from there into the brush. These trails unfortunately all are less than 50 yards long, they typically end in a small flat area that would be scenic if it weren't for the abundant trash from fast-food restaurants strewn nearby. I could find no trails that penetrated into the heart of the park, so I pushed my way through the brambles, following an old raised bit of land where there used to be rail tracks. The eastern half of the park is a gentle slope from Interstate 91 down to a flat area that is largely covered with vines and small trees. The flat area is pockmarked with old excavations, some abandoned culverts litter the forest floor, and there is extensive erosion. Presumably these excavations and the two ponds on the property result from the removal of clay for brick manufacture. At the southern border of the park are two parallel tracks of the large power lines. The sounds of I91 drift down the slope and permeate the park, it's not quite as loud as at an interstate rest area, but it is pretty close.
When I returned to the grassy area after fighting my way through the brush, I joined Allen Ahalt, who regularly comes to the park to photograph wildlife. I asked him about other people who make use of the park. He mentioned that at lunch time there are a few people who walk over from the Industrial Park to have lunch on the benches. He said that there were also a lot of people who drive in to the park and "sit in their cars reading a book". I looked up and noticed that while we had been talking, someone had driven in to do just that, sitting in a minivan facing towards us and the pond. Mr. Ahalt and I chatted for quite awhile about all the animals he's photographed at the park (he showed me a gorgeous picture of an American Bittern fishing in the pond). I then headed up to the parking area to get my bicycle, passing by the reader in the minivan. As I came closer, the van's headlights went on and off as if inviting me to share in something. I smiled and waved. I did not see a book in his lap, and I did not feel comfortable stopping for a chat. In any case I was running late for work, so I got on my bicycle and headed into town.
The possibility that the city might transfer Cucia Park to the army raises many challenging questions for the city's residents to consider. Fortunately, these are not global questions of city policy, but rather questions pertinent to this one unique situation. The requirement to find open space that can be taken off the tax rolls and used by the U.S. Army will not come up again. This does not necessarily make the questions easy, but at least the City does not have to establish a permanent policy on finding large tracts of land for the army.
- Who determines the value of city-owned open space?
- Can the city sell its open space if the conditions are right?
- If so, what are those conditions?
- If money is involved, what should the city do with this money?
Citizens who are concerned about anything related to the Middletown Military Training Facility, including the possible transfer of Cucia Park to the Army, can address their questions and concerns to any member of the advisory panel, to Bill Warner (Middletown Planning and Zoning: Bill.Warner@cityofmiddletown.com), or to Todd Hornback (army press official: firstname.lastname@example.org).