New playground opens at Amherst’s Groff Park

  • Workers from JL Construction Corporation in West Springfield tend to final details on the Groff Park Modernization Project in Amherst, May 22, which includes a water park, front. Town officials formally opened the new playground on Wednesday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2020 7:05:47 PM

AMHERST — A 1950s-era wading pool and a playground built by the community more than 30 years ago meant Groff Park was not a fully welcoming recreational area for the community.

On Wednesday at the 14-acre Mill Lane site, though, town officials formally opened a new playground, with elements for children to climb, slide, swing and ride on, all on top of a soft rubber surface to keep them safe if and when they fall.

And the town’s first spray park, built adjacent to the playground on the location of the former wading pool, is just a few weeks from being turned on.

“It’s been a five-to-seven-year effort to make this a reality,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said as members of the Town Council, Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission, Planning Department, Department of Public Works and others came out for a socially distant, ceremonial ribbon-cutting event.

Bockelman said the vision for the project came from the LSSE Commission and staff, led by Barb Bilz, along with advocacy from members of the community who were seeking improvements to the park and better amenities for South Amherst residents.

The Community Preservation Act account contributed $1.16 million to the renovation project, and another $300,000 came from the Massachusetts Land Water Conservation Fund Grant.

The playground is similar to one that will soon be built at Kendrick Park in the town center, with elements exceeding Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“Our goal is to have safe, modern and fully accessible playgrounds throughout the community,” Bockelman said.

For those who enjoy more traditional playgrounds, with metal slides, swing sets and sandboxes, that remains at a lower level at the Groff site, which was donated to the town in 1934 by dairy farmer Ulysses Groff for use as a public swimming hole.

Bockelman observed that the section of the Fort River that passes by the park has long been known as Freshman River, apparently from a tradition among Amherst College upperclassmen of hazing freshmen there with dunking. Sophomores and freshmen at the college also once competed in an annual tug-of-war over the river.

But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the town activated the site, which has three ballfields and a bathroom, as well as a pavilion along the river that can be rented.

On East Hadley Road, a multipurpose path is being built to bring people safely by foot and bike from nearby apartment complexes, with another section of this path to be built along Mill Lane once funds become available.

It remains uncertain when the spray park will open, though Bockelman anticipates Aug. 1, once electrical components that were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic arrive.

“It’s going to be so fun for kids, or anyone who wants to cool off,” Bockelman said of the splash pad.




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