MAHOPAC, N.Y. The future of Airport Park got a little brighter last month when the town received $250,000 in state grant money from Sen. Pete Harckham.
The park is undergoing a $2.2 million renovation that will build five athletic fields, bleachers, bathrooms, an expanded and upgraded parking lot, improved hiking trails and now, thanks to the grant, a pavilion, and an adaptive ADA-compliant playground.
Harckham and elected officials, along with representatives from the Mahopac Sports Association and some parents were on hand last month at the park for the check presentation.
Harckham told the crowd that Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt was one of the first to reach out to him after Harckham got elected and the subsequent meeting between the two turned out to be very productive.
“We met early on in his office and he gave me the primer on what was going on in the town of Carmel and we made a vow that regardless of [political] party, we were going to work together,” said Harckham, a Democrat. “I think we hit the ground running and have worked on a number of things together and we are here again today on the park issue.”
Harckham noted that his predecessor, Terrence Murphy, also procured some money for the project and Harckham thanked him.
“This has been a wonderful collaboration,” Harckham said. “When I have discretionary funding, it’s not up to me to decide what the municipalities’ needs are, but I have a strong sense about how those funds should be used and at the top of the list are projects that bring communities together and that everyone has a seat at the table. We know that children play differently, learn differently and have different levels of aptitudes, so we want to make sure every single child has every opportunity to play and learn just as any other child. That’s what appealed to me about this project.”
Schmitt thanked Harckham for his support and said he was excited about what the grant money would do because the $2.2 million budget didn’t include the pavilion and playground, both of which can now be completed at the same time as the rest of the park.
“This will be one of the premier parks for the town of Carmel and this [grant] just made it better. It’s really amazing how, when people want to work together, what we can get accomplished. Parties aside, at the end of the day, it’s for everyone’s benefit.
“One of the topics that the senator and I have talked about is recreation and I identified this facility as one that is being constructed and what our needs might be,” Schmitt continued. “As is evidenced today, Sen. Harckham is a man of his word.”
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Gilchrist discussed the history of the project and how the grant money will play a pivotal role.
“We started this project back in 2006; we had it on the shelf, but earlier this year we were able to get funding from the Town Board to complete it,” he said. “We had a lean budget; it was very tight. So, to be able to get $250,000 on very short notice, it really took the stress off finishing the park. We should have it finished by late spring/early summer.”
Dave Furfaro, chair of the Recreation Advisory Committee, also praised the collaborative effort by everyone involved.
“Everyone has had a stake in this park,” he said. “It’s a wonderful example to show the rest of the world that we can all get together and do some great things.”
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough said the park will be a legacy for future generations.
“I want to thank Sen. Harckham for this generous grant,” she said. “This money will get us one step closer to completing Airport Park where families for generations will be able to come and enjoy.”
Maria Morris, a parent of a special-needs child, explained how the adaptive, ADA-compliant playground will make such a difference for her family.
‘It’s been a wonderful experience being a part of this project, especially the impact it will have on the community that my children and I live in,” she said. “The playground and the fields will offer an opportunity for all kids to explore. You are not only getting access to a playground, but you are allowing all children to be included and play. That will make a difference and I thank you.”