City Council moves on improvements at Riverside Park

New London — The City Council this week approved two measures likely to lead to more attention and perhaps more visitors to Riverside Park.

The council on Monday approved construction of a $28,500 pavilion on an existing concrete slab in the upper section of the wooded 18-acre park. The 20-by-40-foot pavilion will be situated where one once stood.

The council also voted to shift a lot line between the park and the Winthrop Elementary STEM Magnet School, moving a 1.25-acre swath of land from the school back into the park.

The land, which has a deteriorating stairway connecting the park to the school, was once envisioned as part of a $1.9 million outdoor classroom space for the school. The state denied its retroactive inclusion in the school project, however.

Both properties are owned by the city but park supporters like Ronna Stuller, treasurer for the Riverside Park Conservancy, said having the land as part of the park is likely to make it easier to seek grant funding for improvement projects there.

The conservancy over the past few years consistently has obtained grant funds, many focused on improvement of the environmental conditions, things like removal of invasive species of plant overtaking the park, Stuller said.

Safe pedestrian access to the park also has been an issue. The city’s Park and Recreation Commission, backed by the Riverside Park Conservancy, has asked the city to use some of what once was $925,000 set aside for the park in 2014 for park improvements that would include reconstruction of the stairway and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp.

There is about $800,000 left in funds, according to Public Works Director Brian Sear. Some of that money was used last week to install a concrete sidewalk on Riverside Heights Road.

The city also has addressed erosion near Emilie’s Shady Spot playground in the park, which was installed as a tribute to one of the young victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

Sear said there are plans in the works to install a handicapped-access ramp to the playscape and construct a new playscape near the pavilion. Other planned improvements could include renovations at the old bath house and trimming of hundreds of trees in the park to allow more light and open the views to the river.

Riverside Park Conservancy Secretary Cathi Strother, who is also co-chairwoman of the Hodges Square Village Association, said the sidewalk was a great first step to allow safer access for children entering the park.

“It’s just really overgrown and could really benefit from a good haircut,” Sear said.

The park had gained attention when the city considered selling off nine acres to the adjacent U.S. Coast Guard Academy for $2.9 million. Voters narrowly defeated the proposal in 2011.

Despite the publicity at the time and subsequent work of volunteers, Stuller said the park remains one of the city’s lesser known and underutilized open spaces that has great potential.

“It’s in a neighborhood that’s sort of tucked out of sight,” Stuller said.


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