Turning a wasteland into parkland
US funds would help create trails, recreation areas on 90 acres along the Neponset
By Robert Freer
The neglected patch of grass and weeds in front of the woods and marsh at the end of Vanderbilt Avenue in Norwood hardly looks like a potential community showplace.
Dense thickets of brush make walking around almost impossible. Cellphone towers, high tension wires, and low-slung industrial buildings dominate the landscape. Trash is a common sight in the area, which is about a half-mile from the Route 1 Automile.
“People look at this and think it’s a wasteland,” Norwood Selectman Gary M. Lee said recently. “We have an obligation and a duty to open up this land.”
The town’s officials are pushing ahead with a plan to build 2 miles of trails and boardwalks, as well as a canoe launch and picnic area, on the 90 acres of town-owned land bordering the Neponset River between Route 1 and Interstate 95.
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a South Boston Democrat whose district includes Norwood, this year inserted $780,000 in the US highway budget for the project. The funding was approved by the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. Lynch spokesman Matt Ferraguto said the prospects for approval look good.
Said Lynch, “This federal funding will open up 90 acres of beautiful land to bicyclists, hikers, nature lovers, and children. And it will provide increased access for recreational boaters to the Neponset River.”
Three years ago, the town hired a landscape architectural firm that designed the trails and recreation area. Town officials then submitted the plan to state and local agencies, and obtained all of the needed environmental pennits.
While many area communities host state parkland or have town forests, Norwood does not.
“We don’t really have an area where you could get out for a 2-mile walk with no automobiles around,” said Norwood’s planning director, Stephen Costello. “This could be a great asset for us.”
Ian Cooke, executive director of the Neponset River Watershed Association, said the proposed park in Norwood is especially welcome because most recent efforts to open the Neponset have been downstream in Milton, Quincy, and Dorchester. He called the Norwood stretch of the river “a lovely area.”
Although it is getting more attention of late, the Neponset has long been a neglected river. On much of its 30-mile journey from its headwaters near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to Dorchester Bay, it is hidden behind chain-link fences and old industrial properties.
A 2.5-mile bike path opened officially in 2003 on the northern end of the river in Milton and Dorchester. The state is considering expanding that trail by developing a stretch from Mattapan Square to Paul’s Bridge on the Milton-Boston line. Plans also are being developed for a bike path along the Neponset in North Quincy.
Private housing developers are seeing value in being on the river. A condominium project, Milton Landing, opened recently in Milton lower Mills on the Neponset, and another condo project is planned for the Dorchester side of the river in Lower Mills. A closed paper plant in Hyde Park was recently purchased by housing developers.
Much of the trail planned in Norwood would be in the form of a wooden boardwalk above the marsh. A similar boardwalk spans the marshes in Needham along the Charles River. The elevated walkway allows animals to pass underneath while making it possible for humans to traverse the muddy area.
A gravel parking lot is planned for the end of Vanderbilt Avenue.
The area was once the site of the Norwood Arena Speedway, a stock car racetrack that closed in 1972. A commercial and industrial park was carved out of the property, now occupied by a mix of retail outlets, manufacturing firms, and offices.
The developer donated the land near the river to the town.
Cooke said that after the racetrack closed, some abandoned cars were dumped in the river. An organized cleanup removed most of the vehicles, he said.
In the past, there were proposals to build a connector road from 1-95 to Route 1 through the marshy area behind Vanderbilt Avenue. Those plans were abandoned because of possible harm to the wetlands. The river in Norwood is part of the Fowl Meadow Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a state-protected area that requires stringent reviews of any proposed development.