New Town Park 'Reclaims' Waterfront Dump Property
New Town Park 'Reclaims' Waterfront Dump Property
It’s not often that any town has get the chance to remake a section of its waterfront. But East Greenwich will do just that when it officially opens Scalloptown Park and Wildlife Refuge later this month.
“How many opportunities would a town have to be able to reclaim waterfront property on the cove?” said Town Council President Michael Isaacs.
It’s a story that begins with trash. In 1927, the town opened a dump on a piece of land at the top of Greenwich Cove reachable only by a narrow road from the north at the base of Rocky Hollow Road.
Train tracks blocked it from the west and water bounded it from the south and east. Perhaps at the time it seemed like a good spot for a dump, in an age when shoreline was often prized more for its industrial potential than its scenic beauty.
By the time the dump was closed, in 1980, the value of waterfront property was on the rise. But the land was forgotten by many and became overgrown.
Not completely forgotten, as it turned out. The landfill had never been properly capped (or closed), which earned it a spot on the federal Superfund-site list, a program established to deal with hazardous wastes sites. Required by environmental agencies to properly cap the landfill, the town passed a bond referendum for $1.6 million in 2006.
“We had no choice.” recalled Isaacs. “We were under federal and state mandates.”
Suddenly, though, there was going to be this big piece of open land right on the water, which was about to become useable to more than the intrepid few who had walked, fished or birded there in the decades since the landfill had closed.
The newly-formed Fields Committee tried to get the land for needed soccer and lacrosse fields but their plans came under fire from a couple of directions. First, there was Sandra Griffith, who dogged the council to get it to consider making the landfill a wildlife refuge. Griffith, an avid birdwatcher, had been birding there with her husband, Fred.
“I just wanted to make sure that they put [the site] back into land that was suitable for animal habitat,” said Griffith. “I was kind of upset that they were going to destroy all this habitat. I just wanted to monitor how they would do it, what the possibilities were.”
She brought to the council’s attention that the town’s Comprehensive Plan called for the land to be used for “passive recreation.”
The Cove Commission stepped into the fray about this time. “We came in very late in the process. It was almost a done deal [the ball fields],” said Glenn Moore, chairman of the commission. “We just thought it would be pretty high impact for that area to put lacrosse and soccer fields there.”
The council eventually decided against ball fields.
“We began to consider more the traffic issues,” said Isaacs. “The more we looked at the ball fields and then looked at the Cove Commission’s recommendation, we saw it really wasn’t an appropriate use.”
Still, the money from the bond issue would only cover capping the landfill. Creating a real park and wildlife refuge would require additional money.
The town applied for and got grants to be able to do something more than “just a ‘vanilla’ field landfill closure,” according to Lee Whitaker, town planner. The $166,000 in grants paid for shrubs and trees, a gravel parking lot, picnic tables and benches. A stone dust bike path has also been built.
Eventually, the state Department of Transportation is slated to build a bike bridge connecting the park with Forge Road.
Work on the site began in fall 2008, by contractor William Anthony Excavating Inc. Although the official opening has been delayed due to some erosion, “the project is coming in on time and under budget,” said Isaacs. Whatever isn’t used, as much as $200,000, he said, will be used to pay back the bond.
The name of the new park, Scalloptown, refers back to the name of the waterfront area 100 years ago. The area wasn’t exactly considered a garden spot at the time — poverty and crime were rampant, according to a town history — but, said the council’s Isaacs, “We thought the name was a very nice way to recognize a part of the town’s history.”
Town Manager William Sequino said that he worries that the word “park” will mislead some residents who may be surprised at the level of wildness that grows up as months and years pass. “We won’t be cutting the grass around the shrubs.” There will be an area where children can play, he said, but there will be other parts that will be allowed to grow wild, much like Frenchtown Park.
Sandra Griffith is hopeful that the birds and wildlife she’s seen in years past will find their way back to the site. In addition to raccoons, deer and foxes, Griffith says there are lots of migrating birds who’ve stopped there in their travels, as well as native birds such as the black-crowned night herons who have roosted in the trees there and osprey. One of the special additions to the new park is a raised platform along the old dump road that planners hope will become the site of an osprey nest.
The park is set to open by the end of the month. Town officials are just waiting for the grass to be well established enough to withstand foot traffic. “Once it all gets established, people won’t even know there’d been a landfill there,” said Whitaker.
And that’s how it should be, said Griffith.