Wards Acres in New Rochelle's largest park.

Wards Acres is New Rochelle’s largest park.

The Stone Barns Center in northern Westchester is a much-admired showcase for sustainable agriculture.  (And it’s on-site restaurant, Blue Hill, offers a world-class dining experience for those willing to take out a second mortgage to cover the tab.)

Storm King, a little further to our north, is one of the great cultural resources of New York, with sculptures from noted artists situated in a vast park-like setting.

And just about everyone (over the age of 21, of course) likes beer, which is more popular than ever thanks to the growth of micro-breweries and craft brews.

Now imagine taking the best of all three and combining them at an attractive site in New Rochelle.  Interesting, right?  Well, that was the idea behind a presentation made last night to the City Council for the enhancement of Ward Acres.

Ward Acres is our largest municipal park, a beautiful natural space that features meadows, woods, and streams, as well as more active uses like a thriving community garden, plus the region’s biggest off-leash dog run.

But Ward Acres also has serious problems: it’s ecological health is under constant stress from invasives, the trail system is eroded and needs better maintenance, and it is utilized by only a tiny fraction of our residents.  Finally, a historic barn located within the park is on the verge of collapse and desperately needs costly renovation.

The proposal before the Council aims to enhance Ward Acres’ positive attributes and preserve features that work, such as the dog run and community garden, while addressing the park’s problems.  A renovated barn would be the core of a Stone Barns-inspired, but more accessible, place to learn about and enjoy the connections between nature, food, and drink — possibly featuring a brewery or bakery, as well as arts installations.  And the proposal comes from a team with extensive professional experience in agriculture, brewing, park development, and public-private partnerships.

Before you get too excited (or, if you hate this idea, before you start to panic), there are some important caveats.  At this early stage, there are many more questions than answers.  The concept is very general and has not yet undergone any serious financial, operational, or legal review.  The estimated price tag for renovations is high – in the tens of millions – which means that progress will depend on grants and/or philanthropic contributions.  Furthermore, discussion is required to make sure that any changes are fully consistent with our community’s wishes and expectations – and that means obtaining input from key stakeholders, park users, and neighbors.  A lot must happen before plans are even made, let alone executed.

For now, we’re simply starting the process by applying for a State grant that could help stabilize the barn and fund a more rigorous feasibility analysis.  And to ensure that our application is competitive and aligned with State priorities, we’ll work with the team that presented this idea, tapping their expertise.  There’s no commitment beyond that.

Sometimes acorns grow into oaks.  Sometimes they just fade into the soil.  It’s too soon to know which this will be, but it’s good to explore possibilities that could make a special place like Ward Acres even better.  Check out the presentation to the Council.