What’s in a name? Change at Amherst park swirls in political winds - The Buffalo News
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What’s in a name? Change at Amherst park swirls in political winds

The 50-acre site along Hopkins Road in Amherst has been known as Margaret Louise Park for nearly a quarter-century.

Now the town has decided to change the name to Hopkins Road Park.

But in a few weeks, it may be Margaret Louise Park again.

If you’re confused, it’s because the park is caught in the middle of a political squabble.

Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said the park is underutilized and, along with an influx of funds, needs a name change so residents can better identify with where it’s located.

“It has not exactly flourished,” Weinstein said. “It’s a redevelopment of the park and a rebranding of the park.”

But former town councilman and clerk William L. Kindel – who named the park in memory of his mother, Margaret, and paternal grandmother, Louise – believes the name change is nothing more than a political vendetta.

Kindel now serves as chairman of the Amherst Conservative Party.

Weinstein and the Republicans lost the Conservative Party endorsements to the Democrats in this year’s elections. That, Kindel said, helped the Democrats win for town justice, pick up a seat on the Town Board and fend off a challenge in the Erie County Legislature.

“As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Barry is exercising his political vengeance because I’m the Conservative chairman,” Kindel said. “They lost three of the five races, and he’s taking it out on me. I can’t prove that’s what it is, but I can’t think of any other reason for him to do this. There’s no other reason for it.”

The park is located near Randwood Drive and next to the state-protected wetlands of the Great Baehre Swamp. Kindel was the prime mover in transforming this old municipal dump into a safe site.

Amherst spent about $200,000 on exhaustive testing, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation concluded that no hazardous waste was dumped at the site. The old landfill was sealed off with a clay cap covered by 2 to 3 feet of fill.

The park was dedicated in August 1989.

It has restrooms, a couple of picnic shelters, a sledding hill and soccer fields, but it’s largely a passive park with access for the handicapped in mind.

The park has a playground, of sorts, designed for children with disabilities to build up their strength. The sign out front reads “A Park for All” and bears a symbol of a person in a wheelchair.

“It means a lot to me,” Kindel said. “The name hasn’t bothered anyone for 24 years, and now, all of a sudden, it’s an issue.”

Over the years, though, other town officials have complained that no one uses the park.

In the early 1990s, Amherst even considered letting nature reclaim the recreational space, but the town would have to pay back the federal grant money that it used to create the park.

Now the supervisor is seeking additional grants for the park, as well as community input on how the recreational space could be redeveloped for greater use.

In addition to the name change, the wooden “treehouse” – with ramps and a gazebo at the top – needs to be removed in light of its age and concerns over arsenic in pressure-treated wood, Weinstein said.

As for the accusation of political motivation, Weinstein said, Kindel is just acting paranoid.

Councilmen Guy R. Marlette, a fellow Republican, and Mark A. Manna, a Democrat, did ask that the name be kept as Margaret Louise. Weinstein’s proposal, however, won support from the rest of the Town Board by a 4-2 vote last week.

But that’s not the end of the story.

The board will have a new look come Jan. 1, when it’s downsized to five members and includes a second Democrat in Ramona D. Popowich.

Manna said he will sponsor a resolution at the board’s first meeting in January requesting the name of the park be changed again – back to Margaret Louise.

email: jrey@buffnews.com

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