It might have been snowing outside, but the small group assembled inside the town offices last Tuesday night had beach trips and barbecues on the brain.

They’d gathered to hear proposed capital improvements to Milton’s Sand Bar State Park, the first major projects planned in 30 years at the state’s busiest park.

The concept is in the very beginning stage, but if all goes as planned, Sand Bar would see both improved safety and amenities, said Rob Peterson, Vermont Forests, Parks & Recreation manager for the northwest region.

Plans include moving the park entrance west 425 feet on the busy Route 2 corridor to provide better visibility and adding another lane to improve traffic flow. The existing entrance—sited within 100 feet of Class I protected wetlands—will be restored to natural habitat, officials said.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the stone bathhouse would be upgraded to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards to include accessible parking and a family restroom. Concepts also show a pavilion that could be rented for company or family parties.

A majority of 214 survey participants indicated high interest in these topics: 68 percent of respondents said the park is not ADA accessible, and 62 percent said they would or maybe would rent stone house facilities if they were improved, FPR data shows.

“[The stone house] looks beautiful, but it is very dark and not the nicest space inside,” Eileen Hee of Maclay Architects said. “It does have a lot of potential.”

Peterson said a resident has offered to fundraise for additional improvements to the playground to make it more accessible for children with different learning abilities.

Robert Chartier (left) and wife, Rosemary Gladstar (right) gave a generally positive review of planned improvements at Sand Bar State Park as unveiled at a forum last Tuesday night. Parks regional manager Rob Peterson (center) is accepting feedback until February 15. (Courtney Lamdin | Milton Independent)

 

Robert Chartier, who was one of three attendees on the forum’s snowy night, said he grew up visiting Sand Bar and has fond memories of staying at the campground. He was curious, though, how these upgrades might impact the park’s wastewater system. He said when he moved to Milton near the lake a few years ago, he went through rigmarole to get a permit and worried these improvements could overload the system.

“It’s a super major concern for us because the quality of the lake is so bad,” Chartier’s wife, Rosemary Gladstar, said. “It seems like really more than anything, it should be the No. 1 attention of everyone in Vermont, really.”

Parks project coordinator Frank Spaulding assured the couple the design would have to go through permitting as well. Peterson said due to the Class 1 wetlands—the state’s most protected—the area is highly regulated. Any upgrades there trigger close scrutiny, he said.

“It is something that we would have to explore whether actual capacity of the park would increase beyond our historic visitation [statistics],” he said.

Of course, that’s the aim. Peterson said since 1936, Sand Bar has averaged 47,000 visits a year, but in recent years, attendance has dipped below 40,000.

“It’s complex what can cause attendance to drop. What I can tell you is when we make capital investments in our parks, we’ve seen visitation increase consistently,” Peterson said.

Gladstar said she appreciates that the concept keeps the park’s historic nature intact since many modernization projects “leave behind what everybody loves about Vermont.”

Peterson said upgrades to the stone house would help tell the CCC’s story in Vermont. Sand Bar State Park is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There is a great story to tell about our history,” Peterson said. “We can update it in a contemporary way so it’s usable today and still relevant but also honor the history.”

The officials also discussed ensuring the park is accessible in all four seasons. Dave Gibson, a 28-year Vermont Fish & Wildlife employee who lives in the wildlife rescue, said he’s ice-fished at Sand Bar for years and has seen wind surfers, duck hunters and ice anglers use the park for recreation. He suggested the architects try and pencil in some benches or elevated platforms for wildlife watching into their designs. Hee and her colleague, Kevin Dennis, quickly scribbled notes as he spoke.

Gibson was especially in favor of moving the entrance, a concept that excited Sand Bar park manager Agnes Barsalow, also a Milton resident.

“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a horn honk, I’d be a millionaire,” she said.

Speaking of money, Peterson said he’s unsure how much these upgrades could cost but noted it won’t be inexpensive. The first step is collecting public input on the plans, and the comment period is open until February 15, after which FPR will assemble a phasing plan and budget.

Peterson was confident a good plan will lead to funding, and he hopes park-goers support it.

“We want people to weigh in on this,” he said. “We want people to know about this, because a lot of it makes sense.”

Read more at www.vtstateparks.com/sandbar.html. Email any feedback to robert.peterson@vermont.gov.