Down By The Riverside …

Westport parks get lots of love.

Big ones like Longshore and Winslow bustle with activity. Smaller ones like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue are visited often too, by ardent fans.

For decades though, Riverside Park was an afterthought.

Tucked away near the busy Riverside Avenue/Saugatuck Avenue fork, it was easy to overlook. Trees and brush covered the entrance. Parking was limited. Hardly anyone knew that — past the overgrowth and weeds — lay a magnificent view of the Saugatuck River.

Riverside Park, before improvements.

Now they do.

A Parks & Recreation Department project removed invasive species and a few trees. A new design created truly open space, plus a wooded area with rocks.

It’s inviting. It’s handicap accessible.

And — even driving by — it’s easy to see the beautiful river.

For a small spot, Riverside Park has a long history. In the 1950s, it was where contractors dumped rocks as I-95 was built nearby.

In the 1970s, the town bought the land. At some point, officials thought, the Saugatuck fire station would be relocated there.

That never happened. It became a little used, barely maintained, often overlooked ugly stepchild.

No longer.

One view of the “new” Riverside Park …

Parks & Rec director Jen Fava is proud of the transformation. In addition to the removal of invasives and improved vistas, it includes new plantings, a pollinator garden and rain garden.

The I-95-era rocks have been been moved, to create a more natural look and feel. Some have been repurposed for seating.

The project also adds picnic tables; a permeable surface stable enough for people with wheelchairs and walkers; a new parking lot, and an extended sidewalk on Riverside Avenue.

The cost of the new park was $436,000. The parking lot and sidewalk were another $74,000, funded through the Department of Public Works.

… and another …

As with any municipal project, it did not happen overnight. The department worked with its Parks Advisory Committee and SLR Consulting on the design. It was approved by the Parks & Recreation Commission and Board of Finance.

“It’s important get people right down to the water,” Fava says. “And if we’re doing the work, we should make it as accessible for as many people as possible.”

Work began this summer. It’s almost complete.

Fava says that many Westporters are already enjoying the “new” Riverside Park.

And, she promises, “it will look especially great this spring.”

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… and a third. This one looks north.

13 responses to “Down By The Riverside …

  1. Just beautiful; we’ve been watching the transformation with interest & excitement. Thank you, Jen Fava, and all involved in this terrific project; and thank you for making it accessible!

  2. Richard Bortolot

    Absolutely wonderful project. Thanks to all who have worked on this.

  3. It looks stunning as I have been watching it evolve. Actually was going to message Dan to see what was going on here. So nice for people to have access to this town’s treasure the Saugatuck. We are blessed to live in such a special town where care is taken to give everyone access to these scared places

  4. My family and I frequent this park often and love the transformation. For years, 4 old wooden chairs sat at the end of the park near the river. I was thrilled to find out, even during construction, the chairs are still there. Kudos to Parks & Rec. If anyone has a backstory on the chairs, I would love to know!

  5. Patricia McMahon

    Hallelujah ✨
    It looks welcoming and just lovely !

  6. I want to also say rtm members Lou mall jay keenan were involved and also the park and Rec committee of the rtm and bof member mr stern I want say they got project started and others

  7. I must pass this everyday as I live in that area and still don’t think I’ve seen it. Are dogs allowed? (of course with bags to clean up)I’d love to have another place to sit by the river. Sorry to be so clueless but how do I find it?

  8. Dennis Jackson

    We had a “Miss Salmon” as our art teacher in second grade at Bedford El. Is this park named for her? Thanks.

  9. This park is a wonderful new edition to our parks. Some points:
    1. Our new Park Superintendent, Michael West is doing a terrific job:
    2. I have recommended a grand opening celebration, but my guess is that is not planned;
    3. As Sal Licionne states many people were involved, with Brian Stern, then Chair of the BoF being a force for this park and its financing;
    4. The park took far too long to be initiated and achieved, a reality that I attribute mostly to our Parks & Rec. Director. We are still waiting for Baron’s South for example; and
    5. I strongly objected to the several overly wide walkways and saw no true need for concrete pads under the tables.

    Bottom line, the new park is super.

    Don Bergmann

  10. Valerie Ann Leff

    Just drove by the other day, and I love it.

  11. 427 Riverside Avenue – just north of the VFW.

  12. The only problem with this new park is that it will likely attract more people. My family have enjoyed going there with almost nobody else there. Now we’ll happily share! Saugatuck Church used to use it as our location to perform annual clean up. We’ll have to find a different location now. Well done, all involved.