By Stephen Quigley
The explosive growth over the past decade of new and renovated parks, playgrounds, and recreational areas has been unprecedented in the city’s history.
These new and improved facilities have fulfilled a pledge made by Mayor Carlo DeMaria when he first ran for the city’s top office. DeMaria made it a cornerstone of his campaign to upgrade and fix all of the city’s crumbling parks and make them a safe place to play for youngsters or simply as an area for all residents to enjoy on a warm summer evening.
With the last of the parks on that initial list now on-schedule to be renovated, few residents would have dreamt that DeMaria during this same time frame would have added an additional 11 acres of parkland and a six-mile loop of riverfront walkways to the list of outdoor spaces available for Everett residents.
Few would have even thought it possible that they would be able to see the water and have access to the Malden River for canoeing and kayaking.
But that is exactly what has happened.
Like many ambitious projects, this process has taken years and much effort in order to bring the final stages of walkways, playing fields, passive and active recreation areas, and bike paths to near-completion.
DeMaria’s master plan calls for the riverfront from the Charlestown line to the Malden Line to be a continuous walkway of almost six-miles. The area encompasses four parks — Encore Park, Gateway Park, City Landing, and Rivergreen Park — with planned walkways connecting all parks.
Perhaps the most ambitious part of the plan calls for a construction of a boathouse and dock near River Green Park.
DeMaria has committed more than $1 million in this year’s budget to undertake the planning, permitting, design, engineering, and grant-writing for the final pieces of the project to be put into place.
It was only a few years ago that much of this area was overgrown with invasive plants that blocked access and views of the river. In addition, the land itself was contaminated.
However the gem of this area, the Rivergreen Park at the old GE site, has been transformed into a first-class recreational area. The Rivergreen Park was built by Encore at the start of their development project because they needed to take the one-acre site of the former Line Street Park.
Under state law, public parkland must be replaced in kind if it is taken for a private use.
DeMaria offered Encore the land that they needed if they would redo the site of the future Rivergreen Park. However, instead of just doing one acre, Encore agreed to do the entire site of 11 acres. This involved first stabilizing the brownfield, then adding almost three more feet of soil on top of the four feet that General Electric had put in to cap the site.
“Rivergreen Park is one of my favorite areas in the City. It offers an urban oasis in a former industrial area. The future of this area is bright. I envision a vibrant area for all residents to utilize including open green spaces, a regulation baseball and softball field, a regulation track for our track and field team, a practice area for the Everett gold team, and a formalized dog park. There is no longer a need for dirty, industrial uses and heavy trucking in that area,” said DeMaria.
However, the work of redoing the waterfront is not only about creating new parks. Much work over the last few years has been dedicated to removing the phragmites that are not indigenous to New England. These invasive plants, as well as the so-called Tree of Heaven plants, spread quickly, overwhelming most of the native plants.
Over the last several years, these species have been controlled and are being slowly eradicated from the area. In addition, on the last Earth Day, more than 30 trees were planted in the area. The goal is to return the area to native marshland that not only will create filters for the water in the river, but also be able to absorb stormwater runoff from Everett in order to prevent flooding. Public access to view the wetlands close-up will be available by means of pathways.
All of the hard work over the past several years seems to be paying off. Testing of the Malden River and the shoreline reveal that the pollution rates are well below EPA-allowable levels.
City officials also are optimistic that if everything proceeds on schedule, next year there could be the additional activity of rowing on the river.
“Providing state-of-the-art parks for Everett’s youth will pay dividends in the future of our community,” said DeMaria.