Proposal made for river walk

WILTON – A river walk, making use of the sce­nic area between Main Street and the Souhe­gan River, has been dis­cussed several times by different organizations over the last 20 years, but too many objections have been raised and nothing has been done.

The new Economic De­velopment Committee sees the area as a poten­tial boost to the town, but it’s approaching the idea from a different angle: Start in the other direction from the Stoney Brook Bridge.

Jennifer Beck pre­sented the new ideas to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Dec. 12, on behalf of the committee, which she heads.

The proposed park would follow the brook west along the Police Station parking lot, which the town owns. Sidewalks are already in place and people al­ready walk there, to Po­lice Chief Brent Hau­tanen said.

"It would be nice to use the space," he said.

The committee would add attractive plantings and seating, Beck said.

"And we would need to get the lights fixed," she said.

The area was briefly called Abbott Park, but voters declined to accept it and it was turned into a parking lot.

A picnic table or seat­ing could be placed on the paved area beside the dam, near the Heritage Commission sign, Beck said.

Architect Alison Melt­zer, president of the Wil­ton Main Street Associa­tion, has agreed to devise a base plan, Beck said. The committee is work­ing with the WMSA on the plan.

To pay for this, the com­mittee would like to use money from the Cooley Fund.

That fund was estab­lished in the mid-1970s, a bequest from resident Roland R. Cooley, to be used for a park. In 1994, the side hill between Town Hall, Maple Street and Main Street was named for him as part of the downtown revitaliza­tion.

Selectmen said the fund currently about $36,000 available, and a vote of the town would be needed to use it.

Phase 2 of the project, Beck said, would be the area behind the stores as far as the Main Street Park.

Studies have shown that towns that have used their riverfronts have benefited economically, Beck said. Peterbor­ough’s downtown walk was cited as an example.

The plan would include a gazebo and lighting, and possibly a bike path. Beck said she would love to see the return of the scenic railroad.

Beck acknowledged the difficulties: negotiating with each of the property owners, working with the state because the Souhe­gan is a protected river, addressing liability.

"This is an opportunity to get people out along the river," she said. "Most people have never seen it. Entice owners to use the back of their build­ings, build patios. There are ways to do it."

The selectmen agreed to put an article on the warrant to approve use of the Cooley funds.