“Meet me at West Bay Residential, that’s where I volunteer.”
The request from Martha Cruciani seemed misplaced, especially because she wanted to talk about the 62-acre Barton Farm on Centerville Road, which is a good three or four miles away from West Bay offices on Knight Street in Pontiac.
But Cruciani said there is a correlation between one of the city’s underused open spaces and a program that works with people with special needs. Many West Bay clients can’t get around without a wheelchair or walker. They would hardly appear to be candidates to follow worn cow paths, now overgrown with brambles, or attempt a hike, as short as it might be, to a stone outcropping that offers views of the Valley Country Club golf course and the Pawtuxet Valley.
However, they are just the folks Cruciani and Kathleen Schofill, who heads the recently reformed Barton Farm Conservancy, would like to introduce to a little-visited throwback to the city’s agricultural history. That’s not to say farming is “history” there.
Under the direction of Steve Stycos, Westbay Community Action’s sole farmer, more than 11,000 pounds of produce was harvested this past summer from Barton Farm fields and greenhouses. The produce went to the Westbay Market Place where it was given to those needing assistance and to the roadside stand on Buttonwoods Avenue and West Shore Road. It also went to a stand at Kent Hospital. The produce sold raised more than $8,000 for Westbay.
Gardening is also of interest to the clients at West Bay Residential. Giant planters ringing a former loading dock at the back of their building. While frost has withered most plants, a few stalks still have cherry tomatoes and many herbs are still richly green.
West Bay client Tom Senecal loves the planters. He is anxious to start growing tomatoes as soon as he can.
Cruciani can’t wait to introduce Senecal to Barton Farm. He’s one of many she sees benefiting from a handicapped accessible trail that is the subject of a $63,825 trails grant application drafted by Margie Ryan of the city planning department. It was filed last month with the Department of Environmental Management. The grant calls for an in-kind contribution from the city of $30,000 and another $4,000 worth of volunteer manpower.
Ryan calls the farm a beautiful space that can be easily developed to provide passive recreation, educational opportunities and a link to connecting to other area open spaces and trails. One of seven purposes she lists in the application is, “to improve awareness and increase accessibility to this beautiful site that exists in a dense, near urban environment, for the enjoyment of a great diversity of people seeking healthy alternatives to the automobile and sedentary lifestyles.”
Suggested is a handicapped accessible trail of about 1,200 feet made of stone dust with a boardwalk in wet areas that would culminate at an overlook.
The grant application has renewed interest in the former dairy farm that was once the target of condominium development. Neighbors opposed the project and the city worked out an agreement to buy the property for open space. That was 11 years ago and little has happened with the land other than the Westbay farm and the sale of a 30-acre easement to the National Resources Conservation Service for $130,000. The easement requires the 30 acres to be pretty much left in its natural state. Buildings on the land have fallen further into disrepair, with windows broken and roofs collapsing.
Schofill, who grew up and still lives in the neighborhood, says seven people make up the reconstituted Barton Farm Conservancy. During a short walk around the property Tuesday afternoon, she shared her vision to rebuild the farmhouse into an educational center and neighborhood meeting hall. She imagined clearing a heavily overgrown garden to make it into a meditation garden.
The initial effort of the group, she said, will be devoted to establishing its non-profit tax-exempt status and to determine where the trail would be built, should the city be awarded the grant. The conservancy would also serve to rally the volunteers for the project.
Cruciani and her husband Henry are no strangers to designing and building trails. They have worked on trails as members of the Appalachian Mountain Club and have built trails in Rhode Island’s Arcadia Park. Cruciani plans to draft West Bay Residential’s Penny Merris into designing the trail.
“There are practical and functional ways to make trails handicapped accessible,” she said.
Her hope is that Barton Farm can serve as a model for trails throughout the state. Senecal thought that sounded pretty good, too.