Walking tunnel punctuates Bayside plan

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Twelve years after Colchester voters approved a $1.1 million bond for 14 acres across from Bayside Park, there is finally a plan to make use of the land.

Landscape architect Axel Bishop of Lafayette, Colo., said the town should incorporate the property into upper and lower Bayside Park to create a singular recreation destination on the shores of Malletts Bay. He presented designs during last week’s selectboard meeting.

Bishop was one of a team of contractors that priced and planned an enhanced recreation hub in and around Bayside Park. The plan includes a community pool and recreation center, pedestrian tunnel under West Lakeshore Drive, performance amphitheater at the waterfront, walking trails, dog park and a series of shelters and patios.

The total cost is an estimated $39 million.

The pool and rec center account for $25.5 million of the bottom line. The consultants recommended building it in phases, starting with an outdoor pool at $7.8 million. The pool could later be enclosed in a future phase.

Board members were enthused by the vision but constrained by a lack of funds.

“The idea Axel has put forward is pretty exciting,” parks and recreation director Glen Cuttitta said. “It would take [Bayside Park] to another level, bringing people into our community and having our businesses flourish because of that. We hope the community will jump on board as excitedly as staff.”

The facilities envisioned for Bayside Park and the undeveloped parcel can be constructed piece by piece as money becomes available, the consultants said. The plan provides a roadmap to ensure any portion built is compatible with future improvements.

The most impactful first step is constructing the pedestrian tunnel under West Lakeshore Drive to connect upper and lower Bayside Park, Bishop said. The cost estimate for the tunnel is $1.3 million.

“The greatest impact you could have is tying the beach to the park,” he said. “All the sudden, it’s one park, not two parks separated by a highway. It deserves it. It is such a great site.”

The tunnel would reduce pedestrian needs at the three-way intersection of Blakely Road, East Lakeshore Drive and West Lakeshore Drive, improving traffic capacity, public works director Bryan Osborne said. The tunnel would build anticipation and public interest in future phases of the park, Bishop predicted.

The plan indicates the tennis courts at Upper Bayside Park would be moved to the undeveloped acres across the street. Also envisioned there is a dirt bike track, walking trails, disc golf course and a modest shelter/restroom building.

The parcel’s beach on the other side of East Lakeshore Drive is too steep to develop, Bishop said.

“It’s not very usable,” he said. “It’s a view. It’s a natural reserve.”

Resident Tom Berry faulted the plan for not investing in Bayside Beach and for considering Lake Champlain only as a vista.

“The plan turns its back on the beach,” he said. “If there were improvements to the beach, you could have a really decent swimming beach as opposed to moving upland and building a concrete pond.

“The lake is a great view,” he continued. “But another great view of the lake is when you’re face down in it with a pair of goggles looking at a nice sunfish swimming by.”

“You’re right,” Bishop said. “A lot more attention could be paid to that than we did … That’s something we missed.”

Town manager Dawn Francis said more public input will be sought as administrators prioritize ideas and study financing plans.