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Chester County Press

Kennett Area Park Authority hopes to transform 11-acre landfill at Nixon Park

04/13/2021 04:47PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

A subcommittee group from the Kennett Area Park Authority (KAPA) painted the early sketch of a plan last week that if realized would give a new life and definition to an 11-acre portion of Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square.

The presentation, which was held at the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors’ online meeting on April 7, unveiled a broad vision that would renovate two multi-purpose playing fields, develop a playground, and cultivate passive recreation areas like meadow spaces, a garden and woodland, in what is generally being used as a landfill, to the west of North Walnut Road, and north of the Route 1 intersection.

“The grand plan is to ultimately make better use of this space,” said KAPA member Eric Gaver. “We’d like to create some agricultural areas but also maintain some fields that can be used by community recreation programs, because we feel the demand still exits. We also have other plans to draw in the community around some crop and sustainability projects we would like to develop for this space.”

Gaver said that before KAPA requests funding for the upgrading of the park’s two playing fields, it first wants to explore whether there is a significant demand from local recreation groups to expand their programs to these fields. He told the board that he has contacted local recreation directors at several local soccer, field hockey and lacrosse programs in Kennett Square and Unionville, and said that there was medium to high interest in expanding these programs to additional fields in the area.

“All of the programs are looking at field space that strikes a better balance between cost and play surface quality,” he said.  “When I look at the programs in Kennett, they have a decent number of fields, but the costs are high. In Unionville, they are much more limited in field space, but the playing surface is poor because it gets so much use.”

The fields were previously used and maintained by the Southern Chester County Soccer Association (SCCSA), but the league chose not to renew its five-year lease that would have kept them at the park until 2025.  Translated, that’s about 10 percent of KAPA’s annual revenue.

While the estimated cost of renovating the entire landfill area runs about $300,000, the cost to restore the playing fields -- including regrading, reseeding, soil stabilization and the adjustment of irrigation systems -- is estimated between $40,000 and $60,000.

“At this point, we’re just thinking about how we can make this space work long term,” said KAPA member Richard Lyon. “It’s great as a soccer field, but it’s not going to be great as a soccer field forever. We’re putting as much thinking into it as we can and doing our research. We have a lot of talented people on our board and will be reaching out to anybody we think can help us. We’re hoping that this will become a community project.”

Repurposing the 11-acre site is in alliance with KAPA’s primary mission. Formed as a municipal authority by Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township in 1988, it owns and maintains the 106-acre park – about 79 acres of which is located in the township. This natural setting includes two ponds, meandering streams, woodlands including a beech grove with specimens dating back over 250 years, playgrounds, a community-based raised bed garden and three miles of walking trails. It is also the home for several public events, including the annual Kennett Run.

Playing fields, natural habitat, demonstration spaces

While KAPA said it is committed to repairing its playing fields for future use, the authority’s plans for the site will also include converting about one-third of the property into a natural habitat that will be attractive to birds and other local animals, and the other third into a teaching and demonstration space that will be used by conservationists and gardening groups.

The land is ripe – and safe – for both. Lyon said that SECCRA recently did soil testing, and indicated that there is a sufficient coverage of soil above the landfill area – between three and four feet. Although the soil is continuing to settle, he said that the rate of decomposition will slow down. KAPA is seeking funding to purchase equipment that could be used to regrade the soil and maintain other natural areas in the area.

Lyon said that the idea to resurrect these areas in the park was inspired by the 2020 documentary “Kiss the Ground,” that sheds light on a “new, old approach” to farming called “regenerative agriculture” that has the potential to balance the climate, replenish water supplies, and provide food.

Maria Dziembo, an environmental consultant with KAPA, said that before the design of the garden, meadow and woodland areas can begin, that there needs to be a time allowance to see how the area progresses naturally.

“In the more immediate steps for the area that will not be used [as playing fields], it will be important to allow it to regenerate and to encourage native plant growth and crops of other considerations, as we continue to analyze the site and talk with stakeholders.”

Lyon said that the planned development of the 11 acres at the northern reaches of Anson B. Nixon Park is reminiscent of how the park itself came to be.

“The park was an old landfill, and was built on an old municipal infrastructure,” he said. “The ponds we all enjoy used to be the water supply. The buildings we are hoping to renovate [in the park] used to house the treatment equipment for the borough, and this property has been used as a landfill to serve the community.”

Kennett Greenway design moves forward

In other township business, the supervisors voted 3-0 in favor of moving the continued realization of the Kennett Greenway forward to its final design phase in order to support future implementation and construction.

The April 7 approval by the board served as the latest rung of activity in a multi-phase process that has accelerated so far this year with several virtual community meetings and three presentations to the township.

In collaboration with several engineering, design and landscape architecture affiliates, the Kennett Trails Alliance has already completed the preliminary engineering studies for the two segments of the Kennett Greenway: the West South Street Connector and the Chandler Mill Road Greenway. Components that are expected to be decided in the final design phase will include determining the final dimensions of the trail; the integration of asphalt and concrete in the trail design; finalizing all aspects of the Greenway’s engineering; the selection of plantings and furnishings along the trail; the final assessment and potential sustainability of more than 600 trees on the trail; considerations for emergency services; and determining the function of sidewalks and trail crossings.

The Kennett Greenway is a 14-mile multipurpose trail loop that connects the Kennett community to the many local community assets, including restaurants, stores, activities and other local trail systems and open spaces.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].