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New report offers roadmap on Amherst's parks and recreation offerings

The Town of Amherst should link its neighborhood parks and recreation amenities via a system of trails and pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians.

That recommendation is among the key takeaways from a new draft report – to be released Wednesday – that lauds the town's current parks and recreation system as adequate, but notes where access improvements could be made.

The 249-page report by the town's consultant, Colorado-based GreenPlay, provides a roadmap for the next decade of growth of the town's parks and recreation system, which encompasses 1,230 acres and 64 facilities. The town has 19 neighborhood parks, 16 natural conservation areas, 13 athletic facilities, four community centers and six community parks.

The ongoing update to the town's Recreation and Parks Master Plan will be the subject of a presentation at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers in Town Hall, 5583 Main St.

Amherst is not alone in seeing an emphasis placed on building out trails and pathways, according to town officials.

"I think that's something that is reflective of current trends we see regionally and even nationally," said Daniel Howard, the town's planning director. "There's a lot of folks interested in healthy opportunities to recreate in their community."

This first update to the Master Plan since 2004 began in May, and cost the town just under $80,000.

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The report makes broad recommendations and includes an inventory report of every town recreation amenity. The findings include a need for more comfort features such as restrooms, lighting, shade and seating – as well as standardized identification signage at all parks.

But the inventory also takes each park down to a microscopic level, such as a need to replace a flag on the flagpole at Willow Ridge Park.

Howard said he found that level of detail particularly useful for quick fixes, but that the report will also direct how millions of dollars are spent in major upgrades in coming years.

"It gives us a nice roadmap to determine how the town capital funds ought to be allocated and planned for," he said. "That was a primary objective of this study."

The report doesn't specifically address the future of key amenities such as the town-owned Northtown Center, or the privately owned former Westwood Country Club.

But it does call for preserving green space, acquiring new green space when it's available and creating more parks, said Mary-Diana Pouli, executive director of the town's Youth and Recreation Department.

Trails and pathways, along with preserving natural areas and protecting green space, were identified as the highest priority among 560 residents who responded to a survey last year.

"We have a good start to our trails and pathways in the town, but certainly what I think people are saying here is there's an opportunity to enhance those," Howard said.

The report "validates" the town's proposals to expand aspects of the town's trail system, such as the University West trail near the University at Buffalo, he added.

The report also makes a series of recommendations on how to improve community connectivity to parks.

Outdoor recreational capacity around Tonawanda Creek and larger nature areas in the northern portion of the town should be enhanced, according to the report. Along this area, the report calls for expanding and connecting trails, installing educational, interpretive and wayfinding signage and improving parking.

The Town Board is likely to review the draft report after Wednesday's presentation and suggest any changes before adopting it as early as March.

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