North Yarmouth residents propose stewardship of Veterans Memorial Park
NORTH YARMOUTH — Amid concerns over stewardship, a new group hopes to take an active role in the long-range planning and protection of Veterans Memorial Park.
The five-acre park at the corner of Memorial Highway (Route 9) and Parsonage Road was created in 1949, on land provided by Henry Sweetser.
A corporation was established, in part to "honor the citizens of North Yarmouth ... who have served in the defense of their country and to perpetuate their names and the record of their services," according to its certificate of corporation.
Thaddeus Day, a resident who runs a law practice on Walnut Hill Road (Route 115), is among a group of residents who want to ensure the park remains intact and dedicated to its original purpose.
"We consider ourselves ... what we're hoping are going to be the new incorporators of the corporation that's essentially just been (a) position held by the town," Day said.
The group plans to establish a set of bylaws, to be approved by the town, along with an agreement between the group and the town, Day said. Under that agreement, the town could allow the group to elect a set of officers who will file with the secretary of state's office and be in control of the operation, he explained.
Even if the current Board of Selectmen has no intention of changing anything about the park, "the problem is, if you just have a piece of land like that conveyed to the town ... in two years, three years, that board may want to develop the property," Day said.
The goal would be for the town to continue maintenance of the park, while the corporation would handle long-range planning, address the park's needs, provide a voice to the Board of Selectmen, or have a liaison from the board on the corporation.
The bylaws would also provide a plan for future management, if the corporation ceases to exist.
That is one concern voiced by Steve Palmer, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Veterans ran the original corporation at the outset, but by the 1970s had "lost contact with the park," he explained, leaving the town to take over its maintenance. "(The town) became its manager; it became its management company," Palmer said.
An acting board of directors, on which Palmer serves with fellow Selectman Paul Napolitano and former Selectman Rob Wood, now handles that task. The town continues to pay the corporation fee.
"The town has taken ownership, in terms of making sure that there's been maintenance – the mowing, and the lights," Palmer said.
But a recent suggestion by one resident that the North Yarmouth Historical Society move the 19th century Old Town House to the park area raised some concerns in the community about the property's future.
Resident Paul Hodgetts on March 4 started a Facebook page, "Save North Yarmouth Veterans Memorial Park," which within a week had received more than 150 "Likes." Hodgetts, who serves on the group with Day, expressed concern on the page about selectmen discussing dissolving the corporation and taking over the park, for whatever purpose the town chooses.
"People thought that the town was going to take over the veterans park," Palmer said. "... The board has no interest in doing anything with that piece of property, other than making sure that someone is taking care of it."
He added that board members sought to transfer the park to the town, and "thought that if the town could take ownership of the land, and have covenants that protect the use of the land in that changeover, then the ... park would be cared for by the town, and it would be clearly spelled out, that this is what the town is doing, and making sure that the land itself is protected from encroachment by any individual from the town."
Palmer expressed concern about history repeating itself, if a new group of veterans take over the park, but again lose contact with the property.
"Who's going to take care of the park?," he said. "Now it falls into disrepair, the town steps up to the plate once again and does what most towns in this state do: they take care of their veterans park. That's all we were trying to do."
Day said he thinks the two parties are heading toward some sort of agreement, noting that the board is looking for assurance that the responsibility will not eventually be returned to the the town, as occurred decades ago.
"They're looking for a group that's going to be strong, and maybe have some backup," Day explained, adding that his group has approached the American Legion about providing support if the new corporation ever becomes defunct, so that the veterans would still have a voice.
"The veterans want to take some responsibility, and I applaud them for that," Palmer said. "When we find out what it is they want to do, we'll put our heads together to figure out what's best for the veterans, and what's best for the town, going ahead."