Future of Milford’s parks system discussed at council retreat

MILFORD — A loose vision for the future of Milford’s park system was laid out during City Council’s most recent retreat meeting.

City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that many of the city’s newer outlying neighborhoods lack parks.

“One of the things I really talked to (Parks & Recreation Director Brad Dennehy) about was access to parks within various wards, making sure that each ward has a park available to the citizens that live within that ward,” he said.

“In my former municipality, we had a goal that everyone live within 15 minutes of a city park, and that’s a goal that we could have, as well,” Mr. Whitfield said. It’s important “we have those opportunities for people to get outside and play and recreate.”

Mr. Dennehy agreed that the parks system needs to be expanded, particularly on the south side of town.

“I think it’s really telling, particularly when you look to the south,” he said. “In Ward 1 and Ward 2, we’re really lacking neighborhood parks, playgrounds or a trail system.”

At present, Mr. Dennehy said most of Milford’s parks are “fairly well-centered in the downtown, other than Tony Silicato Memorial Park on the north side of town.”

He and Mr. Whitfield have been brainstorming ways to work more open recreational space into those underserved neighborhoods.

“As the city moves forward and continues to grow, that’s going to be foremost in my mind’s eye for Parks & Recreation,” Mr. Dennehy said. “What do these new developments have in terms of offering a parks system, and how does that tie into our bigger recreation program?”

But this isn’t Parks & Rec’s sole priority.

“The other thing Brad brought up was connectivity and how we can create connectivity, particularly down in the southeast area,” Mr. Whitfield said.

Mr. Dennehy sees a robust trail system for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists as key to accomplishing this goal. He cited the new Junction and Breakwater Trail in Lewes as a successful example of what he would like to see happen.

“The trail system they put in down around Lewes, this Breakwater Trail, they built it, and people come,” he said. “It’s amazing to see the amount of people who utilize that, whether they’re on a bicycle or if they’re walking.”

Additionally, he pointed out that new businesses have opened up around the trail there and that he hopes Milford could do something similar.

Rob Pierce, Milford’s planning and economic director, has worked extensively on creating a bike path system for Milford.

Although he said a broad bicycle plan was drawn up in 2011, the city began creating a more comprehensive one in November 2019.

“We applied for a planning grant through (the Delaware Department of Transportation) and were awarded 100% assistance for our bicycle portion of the plan,” Mr. Pierce said.

He has been working with the Bicycle Advisory Committee and some other urban planners to finalize it since then and hopes to present a final project list to DelDOT soon. Mr. Pierce said many in the community are very excited about the project and that he has gotten very little pushback on it.

Locals could see additional bike infrastructure come sooner rather than later.

“Through this master planning process, we may have the opportunity to work with the University of Delaware and DelDOT to do a pop-up project, which is a temporary arrangement, along one of our alignments that may … impact a residential street,” Mr. Pierce said.

“They could put up temporary barriers or striping just to give people a feel of what it could be,” he said. “If we want to go that route, we would certainly do some public outreach on it and bring it back before council.”

Mr. Pierce said he had a meeting on “Friday to go over a potential pop-up along Marshall Street. It was identified as one of our bike routes coming into town from the south, and it’s very wide and can accommodate some improvements.”

Mr. Dennehy also had some more specific ideas for council to consider. One was a revitalization of the parkland around Marshall Pond, which is off Rehoboth Boulevard near the Pop Warner field.

“The pond is actually really pretty,” Mr. Dennehy said. “I encourage everyone to go down there and take a look at it.”

Councilman Brian Baer said he had seen people fishing there, and Mr. Dennehy added that he envisions it as a possible place for people to go boating.

Although at present, the banks are overgrown and it lacks a bathroom and seating areas, Mr. Dennehy said it once served as an ad hoc swimming beach.

“In World War II, because there was a gasoline ration, people weren’t allowed to drive to the beach, so the mayor at the time decided that they needed a swimming beach,” he said. “They actually trucked in sand and built a pavilion on Marshall Pond.”

But that didn’t last very long, he said, because there was some industrial contamination. Councilman Andrew Fulton wanted to know if that had been remedied.

“The very first thing we need to do is a water-quality assessment to see where we’re at with it, and I think there is funding available at various state levels,” Mr. Dennehy said. “There’s no point in trying to pursue forward if we can’t get through that obstacle.”

Councilman Todd Culotta said the Marshall Pond area could be easily linked to The Rookery property given their proximity if the city ends up buying that land.

Mr. Dennehy also discussed the possibility of adding a man-made water feature to Milford’s downtown in the form of a splash pad.

He said the city has considered putting it in front of the Riverfront Theater, in Bicentennial Park or near the basketball courts off Washington Street now that a mixed-use building will definitely not be constructed there.

“I think Milford needs a bit of a draw,” he said.

“I know that I’ve been to Disney World, and what is Disney World? It’s nothing but entertainment,” Mr. Dennehy said. “I remember dragging my kids out of Disney World in Florida, and those kids had more fun, and that’s the honest truth, getting out of the park and taking their shirts off and playing in the splash pad.

“There’s no one else, as far as I know, in the state of Delaware that’s got it. Yes, it’s seasonal, but one of the other possibilities we could use it for in the wintertime … (is) an artificial ice-skating rink, and I always thought that could be a really good idea, too.”