(Nov. 23, 2017) Ten of the 11 members of the newly formed Berlin Falls Park Advisory Committee met for the first time Thursday night to discuss how the group would work towards recommendations for future developments.
Mayor Gee Williams and project coordinator David Deutsch addressed the group, and Town Administrator Laura Allen led several breakout sessions designed to help committee members get to know each other.
Serving on the committee are councilmen Troy Purnell and Zack Tyndall and residents Amy Barra, Amy Field, Roger Fitzgerald, Kate Gaddis, Bruce Hyder, Joan Maloof, Shaneka Nichols, Jack Orris and Kate Patton.
Barra works at NASA and was involved in a similar but much larger project in upstate New York, where a 600-acre former dairy farm was converted into a wetlands preserve.
Field is a testing coordinator at Snow Hill High School and an avid “nature lover.”
Fitzgerald has a background in sustainable practices, having built his own energy-efficient home and worked with watershed preservation groups performing “macro invertebrate sampling.”
Gaddis, also originally from upstate New York, has worked at Ocean City Parks and Recreation for two decades.
Hyder is an avid camper and serves on the Berlin Parks Commission.
Nichols is a long-time Berlin resident and her mother worked at the former Tyson’s Chicken plant for 30 years, before it was bought by the town and renamed “Berlin Falls.”
Orris brings experience managing parks in Pennsylvania and was drawn to Berlin by the “small town, Americana feel.”
Patton is the executive director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, a nonprofit “dedicated to preserving rural lands, to promoting vibrant towns, and to building a more healthy and connected Eastern Shore.”
“This has been a long-anticipated evening,” Williams said. “When we first started discussing the possibility of what is, for now, called Berlin Falls park, we got a lot of laughs. We got a lot of people who said this is beyond anything Berlin can imagine.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be able to … transfer the responsibility for this very unique opportunity to you folks,” he continued.
“Each of you brings some very unique talent to this endeavor, but you also bring what I’ll call an understanding that you belong to a greater family. And, like with any family, you just don’t care about your own lifetime … but you think about the generations that will follow.”
Williams reiterated, as he has often done during Town Council meetings, that fully realizing the potential of the 60-acre former chicken-processing plant could take generations.
“What this property may become and will become … is in your hands. And I am not only grateful, I’m excited,” Williams said. “I can’t be more grateful for the potential that you bring — no pressure!
“There is a point in your life where you realize that you do as much as you can and then you trust in the folks that follow. I have great trust in all of you,” he added. “Our little community has succeeded for the last several generations not because we’ve discovered some secret, but because we recognize we are family first.”
Williams joked that, like any family, Berlin has “a couple good, crazy aunts and uncles. “ I hope none of you are among them,” he said with a laugh.
“I do think you have an opportunity here to take that understanding that we are not just a governmental agency … this community has come from some really rough times and from some origins that we would have not chosen, to being a place that I hope, with your commitment and help, will become a community that leads by example.”
Deutsch went over some of the language to the resolution that established the committee in October, but said the group is “more than … an academic exercise.”
“[We’re] really going to rely on you to help us move this process forward and focus on those options [of development],” he said.
He mentioned the YMCA as an organization he and other town planners have already met with, and said the property would need to balance active and passive uses, with more active uses likely on “the front half,” near Old Ocean City Boulevard.
Deutsch said the park needs to be inclusive of the entire community and any developments should compliment the downtown, but not detract from it.
He said the property seemed remote, but could easily be connected “so the property really is kind of knitted into the fabric of community life.”
The name, he said, was something to focus on “down the road.” Deutsch joked about the current moniker.
“When I first heard that it was Berlin Falls park, I looked and I didn’t see the falls,” he said. “It’s kind of neither here nor there. It’s a relatively minor issue … maybe it just becomes obvious to all of you what that designation ought to be as we go forward and carve out the role for this 60-acre piece and the future of town.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity here. We’re got a great group of people with a diverse, community background,” Deutsch added.