D-Day Arrives for Outdoor Fitness Gym Donation in Green Mountain Falls

Opinions Split on Elaborate, $200,000-plus Artsy Project

Rick Langenberg

Decision time has arrived for the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees regarding an elaborate, $200,000-plus outdoor gym and Fitness Court, a bid that has commanded main stage attention in the last month.

Next Tuesday (Sept. 7) is the final D-Day for the project, part of a proposed gift provided to the town through the Kirkpatrick Family Fund. The trustees delayed a decision for the second time on the Keith Haring Fitness Court at last week’s special meeting, seeking a few more answers to such questions as liability insurance, restroom facilities and available Wi Fi service and concerns by adjacent property owners.

“I am not shutting the door, I want questions answered,” said Mayor Jane Newberry.  This sentiment was shared by two other trustees at an Aug. 24 public hearing on the project. “We need more information,” said Trustee Sunde King. “We need to be considerate of residents who have not spoken.”

Jesse Stroope, who represents the Kirkpatrick group on this and many other projects, still remains cautiously optimistic.  “I am hopeful,” said Stroope, who said the deadline has been extended for the grant project, being coordinated through the National Fitness Campaign.

“I was encouraged by the support we received at last week’s meeting and the civil tone of the meeting.  I have received many emails by people in support of the project,” said Stroope. He cited the fact that a number of former skeptics of the project changed their opinions, based on the recent presentation and comments.

More specifically, he believes the pending issues can be addressed. Stroope contends that a final decision will probably have to occur on Sept. 7 for the project to move forward.

Early  last week, the trustees had a spirited discussion on the project during which public comments were accepted, in person and through Zoom. Most attendees endorsed the project, which won’t cost the town any funds, and is part of a donation by the Kirkpatrick Family Fund.

The project represents only one of 10 fitness hubs, orchestrated through a partnership between the Keith Haring Foundation group and National Fitness Campaign.  Haring, who passed away in 1990, is known for his pop and graffiti-like work that grew out of the New York City street culture in the 1980s, according to the group’s website. Some of his art would be displayed at the fitness center.

At last week’s meeting, Trent Matthias, the executive director of the National Fitness Campaign, outlined their organization’s work in securing fitness courts in 200 cities in the country, with the idea of offering the best outdoor gym available. He emphasized the facility would be very accessible for all kinds of users, including senior citizens and those with disabilities. Plus, he perceived the hub, which would be located in the pool park, as a community gathering point. “This is something everyone can do,” said Matthias, who spoke, via Zoom, from San Francisco.

He said their organization was attracted to Green Mountain Falls due to the town’s emphasis on recreation, and its unique location.  “We felt it could be a great fit,” said Matthias.

Most meeting participants clearly supported the project.  In fact, some of the supporters, admitted they were slowly aging and would use the facility themselves. “This is something that is exciting,” said resident Nancy Dixon…”How can you turn this down?”

And with the closure of the Catamount Trail (regarded as the crown jewel of the GMF trail system) due to a property dispute, the resident noted that the timing for this project couldn’t be better.  She said it could provide a needed recreational boon for residents. “Our parking revenue has hit rock bottom,” added Dixon.  She cited rough figures indicating that hiking visitation has dropped from nearly 150  users a day during the week down to 15 due to the impasse over the Catamount Trail.

This closure has seriously impacted hiking traffic for the community, which hit record levels last year.

Rocco Blasi, the chairman of the former trails committee, echoed similar views. More specifically, he said the outdoor gym, part of a donation, ties in with the most recent master plan. “It is a one of a kind opportunity,” said Blasi, who urged the trustees to accept this very generous donation.

“This would be great for the town,” said resident Jay Kita, a member of the town’s parks, recreation and trails subcommittee. “This is a fantastic opportunity. It is a broadening of the community.”

However, the project does have its skeptics. Resident Sarah Harrington questions how the project would mesh with the mountain flavor of the town. “We are at the base of the mountains. Those views are what bring people to the community.”

She and other opponents argued that this particular project is better suited for a larger community, or a more regional park. Harrington noted that most of the examples of these fitness centers involved much larger cities than Green Mountain Falls.

“We are taking a huge risk,” said Dr. Trajin Braun, who believes the town would be acting as a “guinea pig” for the project group, and cited the lack of supervision for the Fitness Court. “There are so many things to think about.”

She urged the trustees to examine how this project worked for other communities before taking the plunge forward.

A number of letters the trustees received also indicated a lukewarm support for the Fitness Court, with some residents saying it clashes with the aesthetics of Green Mountain Falls.

Graffiti Art In Question

One sticky point for both supporters and critics of the project involves the art of Haring.  GMF Marshal Virgil Hodges said in conversations with many residents, this subject has emerged as one of the most contentious aspects of this proposed venture. The marshal suggested that some of these images get toned down.

“Art is a matter of taste,” said Stroope, who handles much of the art arrangements for the Green Box Arts Festival. “You never know with public art.”

He admitted that Haring’s work is a little different, but believes that users will get used to this style.  And the Fitness Campaign project plans call for the work of a different artist in approximately five years.

In addressing the board, Stroope, who chairs the parks, recreation and trails committee, agreed with Dixon that the timing of the outdoor gym couldn’t be better.  “Community amenities are really important,” said Stroope. With the closure of the Catamount Trail and certain people seeking a rejection of the gym donation, he stressed that the trustees must answer the essential question: “Are we closing down or opening up?  As the chairperson of the parks, recreation and trails committee, I don’t think that is the message we want.”

The trustees, in their final deliberations expressed caution about making a final decision last week. They mainly wanted a few more details addressed and expressed some reservations about a 20-year commitment.

Under the proposal, the fitness hub would be installed and located at the pool park for 20 years.

According to Trustee Margaret Peterson, comments she has received indicate a 50/50 split between proponents and opponents of the project.

A final decision will mostly likely have to occur on Sept. 7.