Portsmouth’s new waterfront park slated to open Friday

DPW putting finishing touches on first phase of Mt. Hope Park

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/26/19

PORTSMOUTH — As early as this week, residents will finally be able to visit the town’s new waterfront park and take in the scenic, panoramic views of Mt. Hope Bridge and surrounding …

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Portsmouth’s new waterfront park slated to open Friday

DPW putting finishing touches on first phase of Mt. Hope Park

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — As early as this week, residents will finally be able to visit the town’s new waterfront park and take in the scenic, panoramic views of Mt. Hope Bridge and surrounding bay, enjoy a picnic and even do a little fishing.

More than three and a half years after the town and the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) purchased property at the north end of Bristol Ferry that was formerly used as a ferry terminal and a restaurant, officials are ready to open it as Mt. Hope Park, a permanently conserved property. The property has been chained off while the town’s Department of Public Works (DPW) continues work there.

“We’re trying to push for next Friday (Aug. 30), because we only have a few more little things to do,” DPW Director Brian Woodhead said last week.

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. confirmed the news at Monday’s Town Council meeting. “Our goal is to complete the work by the end of the week before we remove the fence by Friday,” he told the council.

In January 2016, the Town of Portsmouth and ALT purchased about 5 acres of property — including about 1.5 acres of dry land jutting out into Mt. Hope Bay — for $900,000, from a number of limited liability companies. The primary owner was Joseph Brito of Bristol. The town put up $600,000 from a previous bond issue, and ALT provided the remaining $300,000.

When the town first purchased the property, officials said there were no grand plans other than cleaning the land up, repairing the seawall and plopping down a couple of park benches. A future sailing center was also mentioned as a possibility. 

Unfortunately, major repairs to the seawall have not been realized due to a lack of needed grants, according to Charles Allott, ALT’s executive director.

“We received rough estimates of what it would cost to fix the seawall and it was a lot of more expensive than what we thought it was going to be,” he said last week. “We didn’t have the funding to fix the seawall and the town didn’t have the funding, so in the short term we’re putting up a temporary fence.”

That will keep visitors safe and allow the park to “open to the public, which is the most important thing under the conservation easement,” Mr. Allott said.

Added Mr. Woodhead, “We had to put this fence up because of the condition of the seawall; it was breaking apart. The Aquidneck Land Trust is trying to work on some grant money to get this all opened up and make it accessible, and then we’ll take the fence out. It will be easier to get grants once it’s opened, because then it’s a functional park.”

DPW has been busy cleaning up the area, installing a circular drive with six parking spaces — that’s all that’s permitted within the park, and spreading loam and seed on the dirt surfaces.

“We’re trying to get it safer so we can open it up so people can go down there and enjoy the area,” said Mr. Woodhead. 

DPW is also using large granite stones on the site to block vehicles from driving past the parking area and onto the rest of the land.

“These were all here; this is all remnants from when Cardi (Corp.) was working on the bridge, doing the abutments. They left all their stuff here, including rip rap and a pile of fill. When we bought the property, we bought the property with everything on it,” Mr Woodhead said with a laugh. “We said, ‘Well, OK. We’re going to utilize all that stuff.’”

DPW has also re-poured a walkway, removed the pile of fill, pumped out and filled a large septic tank, and made repairs to a floating pier on the south side. (No boats will be allowed except for those operated by first responders, however.)

The fence at the entrance to the property will be removed this week, he said. “And we’re going to have some signs put up,” said Mr. Woodhead, adding that the normal hours of operation for the park will be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily as outlined in the town charter.

What about neighbors?

During the first public workshop on the waterfront park’s development in February 2017, several abutters raised concerns over parking, trash, the property’s stability and the project’s overall scope. 

More recently, however, Mr. Woodhead said he’s heard no backlash from neighbors. “I’m sure when it opens, we may hear a little bit,” he said. “We’re relying on some of these people to keep an eye on it, too, for us. If they see someone here after 9 (p.m.), then can let the police know so they can come down and let people know what the rules and regulations are.”

He said he doesn’t believe the park will face an onslaught of visitors, anyway. “You’re going to get the fishermen down here — two or three cars. I think you’re going to get a couple people come in to look at the park, which is great,” he said.

Although the park is expected to open on Friday, there will still be many more improvements to be made down the road, depending on available grant money, he said. “We only had limited funds in last year’s budget for this,” Mr. Woodhead said.

Mr. Allott agreed that future improvements depend on available grants, but they should be easier to acquire once the park opens to the public. 

“To us it’s so exciting, because that really was the whole reason we wanted to do it,” he said. “I would love to do a ceremony. It’s a fabulous park for the community and we’re proud to get it open.”

Mr. Woodhead agreed. 

“Even my guys who were working on it this week, they were getting the breezes and saying, ‘This is a nice spot.’”

Property’s history

The site has a rich history dating back to the 1600s, when it served as the ferry landing between Portsmouth and Bristol up until the construction of the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929. A nearby sign marks the spot of the Bristol Ferry Town Common, which sits just outside the new park.

More recently, the property was the location of the former Mt. Hope Marina House, a popular restaurant that was destroyed by a fire set by arsonists in December 1985. The restaurant had been out of operation during the previous four years due to an FBI investigation into allegations it was a drop-off spot for drug smugglers.

Mt. Hope Park

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