Board considers new entrance to Rice’s Nature Preserve, beach to open June 13

June 3, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

WILBRAHAM – Steve Lawson of the Minnechaug Land Trust has a solution to the traffic woes of homeowners on Highmoor Drive.

On June 1, Lawson requested permission from the Wilbraham Select Board to move an existing access gate on Hollow Road approximately 700 feet farther down the road to allow for a parking area and access to Rice's Nature Preserve.

Currently, the entrance to the preserve is at the end of Highmoor Drive and an abundance of residents seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic has led to an untenable traffic situation for residents on that street.

Moving the Hollow Road gate would allow cars to access an existing gravel area for parking without allowing through traffic, Lawson said.

Lawson said he had walked the area with Tracy Plantier of the planning board and a member of the conservation commission to discuss feasibility. He also said Jerome Gagliarducci, owner of Gagliarducci Construction, has volunteered the use of his equipment, and the Minnechaug Land Trust would cover the cost. There would be no cost to the town, he said.

Still, Tonya Basch, director of the Department of Public Works (DPW), expressed concerns. She said that before the gate was installed, Hollow Road was a “known dumping ground” and was worried those practices would begin again was moved.

She also said there is some question as to whether Hollow Road is a public way. Despite this, Basch said the DPW is willing to take care of the 700 feet of road wants to have an idea of the associated cost.

Resident Dave Sanders asked if the entirety of the road could be reopened. Basch warned that doing so would open some land up to development that is currently protected.

Lawson said opening the road was outside the purview of the proposed project and would defeat the purpose. He said he was looking to do something “minimally-invasive” to help Highmoor Drive residents in the immediate sense.     The topic was continued to June 8 in order to gather more information.

Recreation Department Director Brian Litz sought approval to open the beach at Spec Pond on June 13. He explained that the recreation department would be able to raise money through daily passes and season passes for the beach, but it was low on funds due to the pandemic-related cancellation of spring programs. He said that he may need to seek a fund transfer in the future to cover any shortfalls if fewer people purchase passes than in an average year.

Litz also explained some of the new guidelines and regulations for beaches put in place by the state. The beach will be marked off in sections and patrons must space themselves 12 feet apart. He also said the bathrooms will be sanitized daily and masks must be worn from the car to the beach but can be removed once 12-foot spacing has been observed.

“The state is pretty thorough in what they're asking,” Litz said.

He warned that if the town chose not to open the beach, people would still likely swim, but without lifeguard supervision. The board approved the opening.

During the open comment portion of the meeting, resident Matt Villamaino asked Board of Health Agent Lori McCool if it was safer to have the annual town meeting inside or outside and will wearing masks be mandatory. He said many seniors in town were worried about the transmission of the coronavirus and may not attend the town meeting if conducted indoors.

McCool said no official guidelines had yet been established, but Public Health Nurse Jill Consolino recommended people wear masks as a precaution.

Town Moderator James Jurgens said a quorum of 50 people is needed to conduct the meeting, far more than the 10 allowed at inside gatherings. He also noted the public is currently not allowed in town buildings. For these reasons, he speculated it would take place outside, but deferred to the select board.

Town Administrator Nick Breault reminded the town that Jurgens could postpone the meeting date by up to 30 days, but it would create a situation in which a budget had not been passed by the new fiscal year on July 1.

Fire Chief Michael Andrews, head of the town’s emergency management team, led an update on the COVID-19 response. The rate of COVID-19-related emergency calls continues to decline and the town is replenishing its supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Consolino reminded members of the public that Gov. Charlie Baker’s mask order is still in effect and face-coverings should be worn in public when social distancing of six feet or more is not possible.

McCool reminded business owners that are preparing to reopen that the state requires businesses to create a written plan on how they will adhere to pandemic guidelines. She said more information about the guidelines can be found at

Breault said that while the municipal buildings are not yet open. officials are beginning to put together plans with that goal in mind.

Finally, Wilbraham Public Library Director Karen Demers told the town that curbside pickup service has begun for materials that are checked out online. She said when books are returned they will be quarantined for 48 hours before becoming available again.

Two new streets, Julia Way and Willow Brook Lane, were accepted by the town after public hearings during the meeting. The two roads are part of a recently completed subdivision. Julia Way will intersect with Glendale Road, while Willow Brook Lane will intersect with Main Street. Both roads will end in a cul-de-sac.

A public hearing was also conducted to consider a National Grid request to install two new poles along Monson Road. Eric Fontaine of control Point Technologies that the poles will house regulators to maintain steady levels of current along main electrical lines. The board approved the project.

The board approved the installation of signage requested by the historical commission to call attention to the historical nature of a areas in town. The signs will be installed at three locations around town, across from Rice's Fruit Farm, near town hall and from the FloDesign Sonics’ parking lot.

Emergency Dispatch Director Anthony Gentile praised two of his dispatchers for work they did on recent 911 calls. He said Dispatcher Annie Murphy walked a parent through CPR when their 14-year-old son was found unresponsive and not breathing. Dispatcher Mark Duclos similarly led a caller through CPR to revive a person after an attempted suicide. Gentile said both patients are fine and thanked the dispatchers for the job they did.

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