Candidate Q & A: Larry Simpson, Recreation and Parks Commission

The following represents the candidate’s responses to the Current’s Park and Rec-specific questions. Jump back to Election Guide

Years in Marblehead: I have lived in Marblehead for 31 years.
Occupation/education: For the last 25 years, I have been an ecological garden designer. Prior to that I spent 12 years working for The Trustees of Reservations managing a 114-acre public garden running educational programs and managing land for the recreational use of the public. I have a bachelor of science in ornamental horticulture from Michigan State University. I have taken a number of classes at the Radcliffe Seminars (part of Harvard University) in landscape architecture. I currently teach plant use and identification classes at North Shore Community College and have done so for over 20 years.

Appointed positions and/or elected offices: None, although I have been active with Sustainable Marblehead for a few years.

What should be the Rec and Parks Commission’s top five goals in the years ahead?
Having never served on the Commission, my knowledge is limited but here are my thoughts listed in no particular order.

  1. I think the town does a great job offering recreational activities for children and adults. I hope this continues and can be expanded. I would like to see the same forward thinking be carried out when it comes to designing and maintaining our parks thus recognizing wildlife habit and environmental stewardship are an essential part of the town’s responsibility. 
  2. Resolve the pickleball issue. We all believe recreation is a good thing and pickleball is enjoyed by a large number of Marbleheaders so it is incumbent on the Commission to sit down with all the stakeholders and work out a compromise. Soundproofing fences, plant screens to muffle noise, acoustical reduction surfaces or foam pickleballs are just a few of the ideas that might be researched. Pickleball is here to stay but neighbors have a right to peace and quiet so a compromise is needed.
  3. Investigate winter sports/activities that are suitable to utilize the $2 million gift received from the Larz Anderson estate. A feasibility study was done in 2021 and it appears an indoor, year-round skating rink with lockers and eating facilities would be prohibitively expensive to build. I am not closed to this idea, but it feels like a longshot given the numbers. Having family-friendly and teen-friendly after-school activities during the winter is very important so finding a suitable use for this money is a great goal.  
  4. The budget for Recreation and Parks is shrinking all the time and efforts need to be undertaken to ensure the public spaces we all enjoy are maintained. I would like to strengthen our ties to the schools and the Scout troops to see if more volunteer/collaborative work projects might be tackled. I recently designed a small native pollinator garden at the entrance to Chandler Hovey Park. All the planting work was carried out by Essex Tech students. This kind of collaborative project could be the future. I also believe grants and foundations might be a source of income for items on our wish list. 
  5. Lots of time and energy goes into campaigning, such as holding forums for candidates, getting lawn signs made, answering questions from the media, etc. I think the term of service might be extended to two or three years. It saves a lot of effort/money and Commission members time could be better spent resolving the real issues mentioned above. 

The commission has been accused of not being responsive enough recently, particularly to the hundreds of pickle ballers in town. What’s your reaction to that? What would you do to increase the commission’s responsiveness? Again, I have not been on the Commission, so I don’t have a good sense of their past responsiveness. In my opinion pickleball complaints are real and it should be a priority to get a resolution that satisfies neighbors who want less background noise and all the players who are enjoying outdoor recreation. I would recommend open meetings that allow all interested parties to share their ideas/solutions and I would advocate for a timetable so that this issue doesn’t drag on.

Now that Town Meeting passed an article urging town boards and commissions to be more accessible and transparent, do you support holding hybrid meetings? Yes. Most definitely. I do support hybrid meetings. Everyone has become quite comfortable using the technology and it allows more participation since travel or sickness would not preclude someone from listening and contributing to the dialog. Transparency and public trust are increased with hybrid meetings which is always a good thing.

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