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: 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 a descriptive prospectus, 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 town of Webster took possession of French River Park in 2019.
The plan is very ambitious, but can be achieved by dividing implementation into phases. In revised plan phasing shown below, parts of the plan that have completed are those that are not outlined in phases, plus Phase 1 completed in 2017. Phase 3A was completed in 2019, and work on Phase 3B is scheduled for 2020. Others will follow, not necessarily in numerical order. The property owner has already improved the Phase 5 area to make it passable.
Phase 3A contains some exciting features including an overlook with information on the river and its inhabitants, and a gazebo with historical information on Webster's industrial past.
The Riverwalk upstream from French River Park
Overlook design detail
Gazebo with historical display
River life displays grace an overlook