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Parks advisory committee not giving up on plans to convert quarry into community green space

With a bit of TLC, Sackville’s quarry could become the “jewel” of the community.

That was the message from town councillor John Higham during council’s monthly discussion meeting last Tuesday evening as he spoke of the potential for developing the quarry into a community-friendly green space.

“I’ve always thought this needed to be developed,” said Higham following a presentation from the town’s parks and recreation advisory committee on the project. “I absolutely think this is a tremendous asset . . . it seems to be such a natural fit for our town.”

Fellow councillor Virgil Hammock agreed.

“I think this can happen and it can become a signature park,” he said.

Christine O’Neal is hoping that’s exactly what will happen.

As chair of the parks and recreation volunteer advisory committee, O’Neal said the project just keeps cropping up at their meetings.

Up until recently, however, she admits she wasn’t sure why. But then she made a visit to the Pickard Quarry and was “shocked” at what she discovered.

“I just thought it was a gravel pit,” she said. “But it’s beautiful, with a waterfall and ponds . . . it’s easy to have a vision of this beautiful park.”

O’Neal said she now understands why committee member Peter Manchester has been such a strong proponent of this project.

“He’s quite passionate about it and I can see why.”

Manchester, a local resident who lives on Pickard Place in behind the quarry, said the plan calls for upgrades to the trails and greening of the area; but, in fact, the intent is to develop the space as little as possible.

“We want to keep it pristine,” he said. “The intention is not to develop it too much.”

Manchester said the committee is enthusiastic about the project and wants to move ahead but needs a firm assurance from town council that it will do what it can to support the initiative.

“We feel we need to have a commitment from council before we start seeking other partners,” he said.

The first step, he said, would be for the town to acquire the land, currently owned by Mount Allison University. That shouldn’t be difficult, however, since Mount A has already suggested it would be willing to turn the land over to the town for a dollar.

The idea of converting Sackville’s historic Pickard Quarry, located at the end of Quarry Lane off Salem Street, into a more community-friendly site has been suggested for many years but has never moved past the conceptual stage.

And that frustrates Coun. Higham, who said that, even though the project was not listed as a priority in the town’s recreation master plan last year, there is great potential for development of the quarry.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to develop a tourism asset,” he said, noting the area could be developed into a botanical garden of sorts with native plants.

Higham said he hoped the project would be given back to town staff to try and get it moving again.

The committee’s original plan for the quarry park was developed by a consultant back in 2007. The project, anticipated to cost approximately $200,000 in total if all phases were completed, was expected to include a trail system, lighting and benches in its initial stage.

But those plans have changed in the past three years, said Manchester, who insisted that the latest proposal calls for less infrastructure additions and more eco-friendly focus.

“We would develop this in incremental stages so it would not be a financial burden in any major way,” he said.

But Deputy Mayor Bob Berry cautioned council about the liability concerns that could come with taking on ownership of the quarry property.

“It’s a beautiful area and I think it does need to be developed. But what we have to remember is that, no matter how beautiful it is, it’s a very dangerous area,” he said. “And the moment you open it up to the public, the chance of someone getting hurt is increased.”

If the project were to proceed, he said he’d like to see assurances that adequate safeguards would be put in place.

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