French River Connection
A LITTLE BACKGROUND:
The concept of a walking path along the French River in downtown Webster has been proposed in several documents dating back to at least 1990. While these generally do not go beyond the level of listing the potential of a riverwalk in a resource inventory, they nevertheless demonstrate that what has worked to revitalize downtown areas of many New England mill towns could be applied in Webster; namely, a return to the river that was once its economic engine. Parks, paddling access, and walking and biking paths combined with a commercial facelift can make a deteriorating downtown a destination once again.
In 2006, the French River Connection, supported by the University of Connecticut and public input, produced a French River Revitalization Concepts report to bring the river once again into the public eye. As the concept of a French River Greenway running from the Connecticut border to Hodges Village in Oxford was mapped on the ground, the riverwalk, featuring French River Park, was included as a high value segment for its visibility and potential to gain widespread support. In descriptive documents, the French River Connection began to show the Webster Riverwalk as half of a pedestrian loop, with the other half being along the shopping area of Main Street, and the Webster Office of Community Development began to present it as part of an improved pedestrian access and circulation plan. In 2008, a Riverwalk Trail Log developed with the technical assistance of the National Park Service, served to further clarify the routes and options available to complete the riverwalk.
In 2011, the 1.66 acre French River Park was completed on leased land, under the direction of the Webster Office of Community Development, transforming an invasive plant and vagrant infested lot into a valued community amenity, and providing the anchor for further development of the Webster Riverwalk. In 2012, The office of Community Development contracted Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. ("VBH") to produce a Concept Plan for Pedestrian Access and Circulation for the French Riverwalk and Downtown Connections. The plan is very ambitious, but can be achieved by dividing implementation into phases, the first of which are sections of the riverwalk itself.
This drawing shows the elements of the Webster Riverwalk development divided into phases. See an expandable version
The Webster Office of Community Development engaged Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) in September 2013 to finalize the plan and manage the project through final design, permitting and construction. Phase 1A marked in red above was completed during the summer of 2014, featuring an asphalt path, lighting and fencing, and two decorative river overlooks. During 2015, the green area immediately to the right (part of Phase 3A) was completed with the addition of a third overlook and other landscaping features. During the same year, work on Davis Street (phase 1B in yellow) was substantially completed, connecting Main Street to French River Park.
The next area to be addressed, which is funded and planned for construction in Spring 2016 is Frederick Street, outlined above in lime and labeled phase 3B.
Late in 2015, the Office of Community Development, with the approval of the Board of Selectmen, entered into a contract with Icon Parks Design of Boston to complete 100% design of most of the remaining phases. This approach of having shovel-ready project design plans in-hand will widen the number of grant sources available to complete funding. Not included in the scope of the 100% design are Phase 6 above, the Main Street streetscape, and Phase 7 outlined in orange above, due to access issues.
The first phase of the Webster Riverwalk
One of the river overlooks featuring a blue heron