Walter Burke has a $1.5 million plan to repair and rebuild the dilapidated Independence Park boat ramp and beautify the popular waterfront park.
The boat ramp leading into the water at Independence Park, while a popular spot for recreational boaters and commercial quahoggers to launch their watercraft, has become more challenging to those who enjoy its benefits. Sand and silt pushed from the tides cover the submerged launch, making the surface uneven and making it difficult to maintain stability and traction for trailered boats. The parking lot itself, with the driveway running nearly parallel to Thames Street, also makes it difficult, if not impossible for a vehicle and trailer to negotiated a southerly turn on Thames Street to exit the park, or to enter the park traveling north on Thames. Mr. Burke hopes the plan will alleviate the deteriorating boat launch and improve the parking lot and amenities that make Independence Park a popular place to visit.
“People are not using the boat ramp because they can’t get in and out even at high tide,” Mr. Burke, Bristol’s parks and recreation director, said.
Mr. Burke has secured a state DEM grant and has hired Pare Engineering to design a preliminary plan that calls for a new parking lot graded away from the water, draining into a retention area. A V-shaped boat ramp will allow the tide to wash away sediments naturally.
The design calls for the boardwalk on the southern end of the park to be extended, with a fishing pier extending into the harbor, and additional dock space, dinghy and kayak racks.
“We also want to add some nostalgia to the area,” Mr. Burke said.
Before it became the end of the East Bay Bike Path, Independence Park was home to a bustling Bristol train station where passengers would commute between the East Bay and Union station in Providence. In 1939, the Providence and Worcester Railroad company decommissioned the Bristol train station, with all train service ceasing in 1973. While the rail bed was resurrected to be enjoyed by countless bikers, runners, walkers and others who use the asphalt path, parks and Mr. Burke envisions an area with placards that depict the former train station and the surrounding area as it was, and provide kiosks with information about what is currently available in the area.
“We want people who come to Bristol from the bike path to go beyond Independence Park and go into downtown Bristol,” Mr. Burke said.
The projected cost for the Independence Park project is $1.5 million. The DEM grant provides 75 percent funding with 25 percent from other, meaning town, in kind, or other non-federal grants. Bristol’s match is $375,000, and Bristol Town Planner Diane Williamson said the town is identifying funding sources and will likely complete the project in several phases.