BURLINGTON — Members of a new steering committee on the future of Echo Lake are voicing confusion about their assignment to consider festivals, fairs and other possible new uses for the lake area.
At the group’s second meeting, the city’s consultant from Ayres Associates Inc. asked participants Wednesday to express their preferences among a long list of potential redevelopments.
Burlington city leaders are trying to decide whether to invest $5 million in saving the beleaguered Echo Lake or whether to drain the lake and restore the White River in its place.
Among the ideas being discussed for recreation upgrades — regardless of whether the lake is removed — are a beer garden, miniature golf, nature trails, a music venue and a farmers market. Committee member A.J. Schkeryantz, who owns a lakefront home and opposes draining the lake, questioned why so many new activities are being suggested before the future of the lake is decided.
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Schkeryantz called it “a waste of everyone’s time” to choose new park amenities without first determining what is feasible and affordable on public park property that includes Echo Lake.
“Am I missing something here?” he said to his fellow committee members. “I feel like we’re trying to take the space and make all these changes.”
Another committee member, Cassie Quist, a member of the Burlington Park Board, responded that the committee process is designed to identify opportunities for improving the space currently occupied by Echo Lake.
Quist and other Park Board members voted in January to recommend draining the lake.
“Things change,” she said, adding of the committee’s work: “It’s an opportunity to grow and plan for the future.”
Chris Silewski, a landscape architect with Ayres Associates, urged the steering committee members not to concern themselves at this stage with questions about the feasibility of different park upgrades.
“Literally almost anything is possible with enough money,” Silewski said.
Appointed about a month ago by Mayor Jeannie Hefty, the advisory group is expected by summer to produce a report called an “Echo Lake Master Plan.” It will include redevelopment ideas both for keeping the lake and removing the lake.
The report will go to the Burlington City Council as council members prepare to decide the lake’s future.
The council also is considering holding a citywide advisory referendum on the issue in November.
Echo Lake is a manmade impoundment created in the 1800s when a dam was built on the White River to power a mill. The 70-acre lake became a popular recreation spot, but it has since grown polluted.
State regulators have determined that the city-owned dam no longer meets safety standards. So the city must either expand and upgrade the dam, or remove it and allow the impoundment to drain back into the White River.
Consultants estimated that salvaging Echo Lake would cost more than $5 million, while removing the dam and draining the lake would cost less, with estimates ranging from $1.1 million to $2 million.
New recreational features would require additional investment to be determined by the city separately, regardless of what happens to the lake.
Ayres Associates has sketched out renderings that show a restored White River flowing freely where the lake now stands, with a new pedestrian bridge over the river and other walking and hiking trails nearby.
Other ideas that the consultants have gathered, largely through public input, include more space for picnics, food trucks, a skate park, a triathlon race, outdoor movies, weddings and art in the park.
Silewski encouraged committee members Wednesday to use their imaginations when drafting their proposals.
“Don’t think about any physical constraints related to the site,” he said. “There are no wrong answers.”
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Rich Scholze rides his bike in Burlington as temperatures approach 80 degrees
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Katie Ranke and daughter Elizabeth have a picnic in park in Waterford
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Dan Dummert washes his car in the driveway outside his home in Burlington
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