By Ray Lamont
---- — Conceding that the matter remains a City Council decision, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday she supports efforts to ensure that the Gran Prix of Gloucester cyclocross races will remain at Stage Fort Park.
“Our position as an administration is that we are supportive of the event,” Kirk said. “It’s an important event for Gloucester, it can be — and has been — managed satisfactorily, and the park, in some cases, comes back better than ever after it’s over.”
The Gran Prix, a series of off-road bicycling races that has drawn competitors and spectators alike to Gloucester from around the region, the nation and, in some cases, from around the world, is slated for its 15th annual two-day run at Stage Fort Park the weekend of Sept. 28-29. But the event has not yet been permitted by the council, and residents and some officials have raised concerns since last fall over the impact the racing has on the park in the days and weeks that follow.
With the permitting issues in play, Paul Boudreau of Essex County Velo, which organizes and promotes the race, has spoken preliminarily with officials in Salem regarding the potential use of its Salem Willows Park area in the event that Gloucester declines to issue the needed permits.
Boudreau — backed by some 75 riders and local race supporters — met city councilors and carried out a tour of the Stage Fort Park racing site on July 27, agreeing to some changes that include steering the cyclists clear of Half Moon Beach and the Betty Smith Garden on Stacey Boulevard. But some councilors, including Greg Verga and Bob Whynott, have continued to express concern about the race and its aftermath.
The council’s Planning and Development subcommittee – comprised of Verga and Council President Jackie Hardy and chaired by former four-time mayor and current councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey — is set to take up and make a recommendation on the proposal at its meeting on Thursday, Aug. 15. But the event requires full council approval, which would not come until after that, or roughly five weeks prior to the Gran Prix.
Kirk said Monday that she can “fully understand” residents’ concern over Stage Fort Park, adding that “we’re very aware that we cannot tarnish this beautiful resource.”
She added, however, that Boudreau and others with Essex Velo and the cyclocross — which has drawn up to 1,000 riders in addition to their family members, friends and other spectators — have covered the costs of cleaning up and repairing the site after the races are over. And she said the believes that there is more “sensitivity” now to the condition of the park through additions like the opening of the new Gloucester Dog Park, and a rough winter which heaped more damage onto Stage Fort’s grounds.
“We had the problem of the severe winter storms last winter that tossed all of those rocks up onto the lawn,” she noted, “and I think that, from a citizen’s perspective, that people are concerned about the big picture and how the park will hold up.”
The mayor said, however, she’s confident that the Department of Public Works and other crews that regularly clean up and repair damage to the Stage Fort grounds will be up to the task of dealing with any Gran Prix aftermath, as they have been in the past.
“I don’t blame people for their concern,” she said. “But I would also not want Gloucester to have the reputation of being unfriendly and uncooperative when it comes to hosting destination events.
“This is a destination event,” Kirk said. “People do come in for the entire weekend, and it’s one (for which) we want to keep the destination here.”
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.