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Baldwin Park: Past, present and future

Introduction:

This is a review of plans to reconstruct Baldwin Park in the village of Saranac Lake. The elimination of both hard-surface recreational courts continues to raise questions.

The following is provided to inform the public about the past, present and future of Baldwin Park, and an alternative configuration for a new park is described.

An expanded version of this commentary with reference citations will be provided on the Adirondack Daily Enterprise website. The expanded version may be updated as additional documentation becomes available.

Information published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise is identified as “ADE.”

Past history:

– The Saranac Lake Village Improvement Society (VIS) bought the property which became Baldwin Park from Branch and Callanan, Inc. in 1925. (Essex County Deed Records, Book 180 Page 335).

– The property had been used for a saw mill that became derelict, and then a dumping ground. The site was: “Long an eyesore along the approach to the village from that direction.” (ADE, February 5, 2005, The Parks and the VIS, quoting a 1925 VIS report).

– The 1925 deed includes the following covenant: “… it is expressly understood and agreed that the premises conveyed are to be kept maintained and used as a public park and playground forever …”

– Baldwin Park had a playground for many years, and adult supervision was provided during the summer. (ADE, Feb. 5, 2005).

– The village of Saranac Lake bought Baldwin Park from the VIS in 1949. (Essex County Deed Records, Book 269 Page 45).

– The 1949 deed states that the land is to be used, “… for municipal park purposes, but not for the placing of motor vehicles thereon or maintenance of any parking lot …”

– The village of Saranac Lake added new playground equipment in 1957. (ADE, Aug. 27, 1957).

– The Saranac Lake Shamus Club provided milk to children using Baldwin Park. (ADE, July 7, 1958).

– The village of Saranac Lake constructed a tennis court in the park during the late 1960s. (ADE, Aug. 22, 1967).

– The Saranac Lake Emma Morris Free Milk Fund (formerly the Shamus Club) continued to provide milk to children, and supported the acquisition and maintenance of playground equipment. (ADE, June 16, 1975).

– Plans to add a second tennis court and basketball practice area at Baldwin Park were announced. (ADE, Oct. 7, 1977).

– The village of Saranac Lake refurbished the tennis courts in 1978. (ADE, June 2, 1978).

– Plans to resurface the tennis and basketball courts were announced. (ADE, June 16, 1994).

Present situation:

The village has been planning to reconstruct Baldwin Park for a number of years, using the LaBella company as a consultant. A consultant design that eliminated the two hard-surface courts was presented at a public meeting in 2022. Support for keeping a tennis court at the park was expressed at that meeting and via an online survey.

A grant application for the reconstruction of Baldwin Park was submitted by the village in July of 2023, and approved in December of 2023. The grant application was for a plan that eliminates both hard-surface courts. It contains a number of false and misleading statements regarding the courts and the wetlands at Baldwin Park. (LaBella, Aquatic and Ecological Resources Jurisdictional Inquiry Letter, dated April 21, 2022, Attachment 1, Survey and Wetland map, Site Plan map, and Grading and Drainage Plan map, dated March 15, 2022).

For example, it claims that the courts were originally “… placed on a portion of the wetland area.” However, both courts are clearly located outside of the wetland areas that fringe along the shoreline of Lake Flower on the consultant maps. The claim that the courts are located in the wetlands is false and misleading.

And the grant application also suggests that runoff from the courts causes erosion. A simple on-site inspection confirms that this is also false.

The proposed “Bio-Swale” is problematic. The consultant map of April 2022 shows a “Bio-Swale” to be located adjoining the landward side of the fringing wetlands. According to land surface contours on the map, the “Bio-Swale” is a closed-end ditch that intersects the water table and could therefore become filled with standing water.

The excavation of a permanent “Bio-Swale” ditch directly adjacent to the wetlands could alter the hydrological conditions of the site and affect the natural vegetation. Runoff from the parallel parking area and from the proposed central pavilion would all be piped directly into the “Bio-Swale” ditch.

The APA has not yet approved a reconstruction plan that includes the proposed “Bio-Swale.”

Future alternatives:

Baldwin Park is a multi-purpose facility that provides different recreational opportunities to the public. There continues to be local interest in retaining at least one hard-surface court. Baldwin Park could be reconstructed and improved in a practical and environmentally sensitive manner that continues to provide the same variety of outdoor activities.

The following is a description of an alternative future for Baldwin Park.

– The northern hard-surface court and fencing is retained. It is in good condition, and can become a multi-use area for tennis, pickleball and basketball.

– A wide passageway is created between the two existing court areas by removing a portion of the southern court fencing, and the remainder is reduced to a height of four feet.

– The southern court is converted to a securely fenced open play area, with a pavilion and covered playground on the southern half.

– A view-scape to Lake Flower is created through the center of the park, instead of being obstructed by the pavilion currently proposed.

– The kayak/canoe launching site becomes associated with the existing boat docks, instead of requiring a wetland crossing.

– Boardwalks are all located outside of the identified wetland areas.

– A restroom is provided by placing a seasonal porta-john inside of shed-like structure.

– The basketball back-stop area is converted to a large deck with a screened picnic gazebo and an observation/fishing platform cantilevered out over the wetlands.

– The two large overhead lights are removed.

– The war memorial remains at the current location, instead of being relocated.

– An engineered Bio-Infiltration gallery is installed instead of a “Bio-Swale,” so that all sedimentation and floating contamination from parallel parking drainage can be contained instead of being dumped into an excavated ditch adjoining the wetlands.

Conclusion:

There is no evidence that the existing hard-surface courts have any adverse effect on the wetlands at Baldwin Park. If documentation exists, then it should be made available to the public.

The “Bio-Swale” as proposed could have an adverse effect on the existing wetlands.

The consultant plan for the reconstruction of Baldwin Park should be re-considered and revised.

Daniel Jenkins is a retired hydrogeologist.

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