Easthampton gears up for Nashawannuck Pond boardwalk grand opening after construction completed by June 1

Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2015

EASTHAMPTON — As workers with drills, heavy machinery and hard hats complete the final construction work on the Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park, Nash Gallery owner Marlies Stoddard remembers a time when the pond’s shore looked a little different.

“For the last several years, part of my routine of opening the store — I would walk down and pick up the trash out of the overgrown weeds,” she said Thursday inside her art gallery, just steps from the water.

That all changed in November, she said, when the project well over a decade in the making finally broke ground. And now, after the ipe wood decking has been laid and lights installed along the boardwalk, the downtown promenade is set to open when construction wraps up. The project’s expected completion date is June 1.

“We’re very, very excited about this,” Mayor Karen L. Cadieux said. “We’ve had a lot of positive input on it.”

Cadieux on Thursday was gearing up for one of the last weekly meetings between city officials and the construction team. “We’re in the planning stages of the ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she said.

The promenade park will feature an 8-foot-wide, street-level boardwalk running 500 feet along Cottage Street and Williston Avenue, and a 1,600-square-foot stone plaza where the two streets converge. Two boat gangways at the plaza and a third down the boardwalk on Williston Avenue will allow access to the pond by canoe and kayak. The park will also feature landscaping and benches, City Planner Jessica Allan said.

She added that the boardwalk and promenade park will serve as an “anchor” to Easthampton’s expansive downtown, and will hopefully provide an additional jolt to the downtown revitalization the city has seen in recent years — especially on Union Street.

Union Street is “kind of the next focus,” she said, partly because it connects Main Street to Cottage Street.

After the boardwalk and park are complete, motorists heading down Union Street will have all the more reason to stop and enjoy downtown, Stoddard said.

“This is going to completely change the experience for anyone coming into the town,” said Stoddard, of Easthampton. “They’re going to stop and look and have an incredibly positive and impressive impression of Easthampton.”

Many in town seem just as excited as Stoddard.

Allan, Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Moe Belliveau and a staffer from the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development last week went on a “walkabout,” visiting downtown business owners. Allan said “nearly every single one of them” was looking forward to the park’s grand opening.

“I think people are kind of champing at the bit to have it open,” she said.

A long road

The thought of wooden decking and railings flanking Nashawannuck Pond was not always so popular.

Formal plans began in 1999, when city officials met with urban planners to brainstorm ideas about how to revitalize the city’s downtown. One of the major ideas that emerged from the session was to install a boardwalk and park area around Nashawannuck Pond to allow people to enjoy the unobstructed view of Mount Tom.

Removing the wrought iron railings around the pond — originally constructed by mill owners to keep people out — proved to be a hard sell to residents, former mayor Michael Tautznik said.

“People liked the more rustic look. Many people didn’t want to see that old iron fence come down,” he said.

But public support blossomed after Easthampton landscape architect William Canon rendered plans for the promenade, Tautznik said. “That’s really when we were able to talk to people about the potential — they could see it then.”

He added that the finished promenade will allow a natural resource that was once underutilized to be enjoyed by many people in a variety of ways.

“It’s pretty unique to have a 30-acre pond that borders your downtown,” Tautznik said.

The boardwalk became one of Tautznik’s pet projects as his 17-year tenure as mayor came to a close. After failed attempts to secure funding, the city in 2013 was awarded a $400,000 state grant to help fund the project. That was Tautznik’s last year in office.

“I’m thrilled that Mayor Cadieux took over the project,” Tautznik said, adding, “It was really the efforts of a lot of folks” that allowed for it to be completed.

Marois Construction of South Hadley was awarded the contract in October 2014, after submitting a low bid of $843,500 for the work.

A ‘matrix of events’

In just a few weeks, the collective vision of planners, architects, two mayors, construction workers and thousands of city residents is set to be complete.

Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee Chairman Paul Nowak said the recreational benefits of the boardwalk “dovetail” with the economic benefits of attracting people to downtown.

“It’s an attraction, it creates a destination site,” he said. “Our city is blessed with the fact that we are the only municipality in the state that has a pond that has a mountain reflection, forming a bottle.”

Nowak said the finished construction of the boardwalk will signal the completion of a “matrix of events”— the construction of the Manhan Rail Trail, the repurposing of nearly all of the former mill buildings in town and the 2010 dredging of Nashawannuck Pond.

Jim Ingram of Easthampton, owner of Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream on Cottage Street, recalled hearing Tautznik speak frequently about the project.

“For me, it’s kind of the realization of a story and a dream I’ve heard about for so long,” Ingram said. The boardwalk is a project that “everyone’s going to benefit” from, he added.

Ingram recalled the first year he was in business. In 2004, he said, he counted 14 Cottage Street businesses come and go — a far cry from the shops that anchor the Cultural District today.

Now, foot traffic is enough that more offbeat retailers can survive. The boardwalk will go even further in making Easthampton a destination location, according to Ingram.

“People that may have thought about coming to visit, this may push them over the edge,” he said.

And for a city that’s seen its share of changes over the last century — from once-thriving mills closing to young artists seeking cheap rents moving in, to people searching for the next up-and-coming place — Ingram said the boardwalk will only help Easthampton flourish.

“It seems like everything is coming to crescendo,” he said.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.


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