Community feedback provides a vision for Derry's future

  • Hood Park sign

For many years, families in and around Derry have gone to Hood Park to swim, walk the trails and play. However, due to a lack of funding, poor water quality in Hood Pond and the decline in programs, the park has lost its original luster. People who want to see the park restored to its former glory want to change that.

In 2019 UNH Extension’s Community and Economic Program Manager Casey Porter partnered with the town of Derry to implement Extension’s First Impressions Program, training community leaders to assess and improve their main street. It was during this work that Porter heard about Hood Park and how people from the area were interested in seeing it restored. The idea was brought up again in a recreation management plan and during the drafting of Derry’s master plan.

Scenic view of Hood Pond

“The town council and Derry economic development team had heard many times that people really wanted this park to be revitalized,” says Porter. “They wanted to find the funds in their budget to go forth with this community engagement project.”

Gathering community and stakeholder feedback

Community members and municipal town staff formed the Hood Park Steering Committee in July 2020 with a main goal of engaging the community to hear what they wanted to see become of the landmark. They recruited Porter as well as former UNH Extension Community and Economic Development Field Specialist Stephen Meno to help with outreach tactics.

“Our task was to engage people,” says Porter. “We provided the education to help steering committee members understand different methods of engagement and how to reach people safely during the pandemic.”

The committee met biweekly to develop and discuss outreach and engagement plans with Extension staff. Derry’s Planning and Economic Development Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux says she was happy to have Extension’s support with the committee as they kept the group focused on the task at hand.

Bench in Hood Park with American flags

“I think that when you undertake an endeavor like this, it’s crucial to have someone who is not a town staff member,” says Robidoux. “People who do this all the time know how this all works. They can explain outreach and engagement. I think that having Casey and Stephen as part of our process has been crucial to our success.”

First, the committee conducted in-depth interviews with well-respected leaders including residents and a range of people who work in or travel to Derry. They also created a survey and a website for feedback materials and handed out postcards with a map of Hood Park so people could sketch out ideas they imagined for it. Printed surveys were provided to nursing home residents.

After all the feedback had been gathered, Porter and Meno analyzed the data and presented their findings to the steering committee. Their findings indicated that people had most often mentioned fixing the water quality in Hood Pond, adding additional seating to the park and better maintaining the walking trails. There also was an emphasis on adding elements to the park that would help build community engagement such as more programming or food trucks.

Looking Toward the Future of Hood Park

The final findings were presented in January 2021 to the town council members who plan to help support the committee in this work. Jay Tombari, co-chair of the steering committee, emphasizes the importance of focusing on the larger plan for the park as a whole and not getting too caught up on the small, easier aspects. With the findings from Extension the group recently had some artist renditions drawn of the main points of feedback.

“We really started to define a plan for the park and a long-term vision so that we could make sure that each of the smaller projects that are done fit in with that long-term goal,” says Tombari.

Tombari is also exploring bringing Pinkerton Academy into the park so that students can utilize the land for learning opportunities. One idea would involve hosting forestry classes in the park to give the students some hands-on experience.

“We want make sure that we do right for the park for years to come,” he says.