Adventure Awaits in New Urban Park Built Atop Old Brownfield
November 22, 2019
Blue jays and cardinals weave through browning tall grasses and perch on sumac trees, as Donny Green, bicycle program director for the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC), and I trudge over rain-soaked ground to a large, gray structure. A bike path cuts a line next to us.
“This is the pump track,” said Green, gesturing to the wave-like structure. “It’s really made for BMX bikes, and the idea is that you start in a high place, drop in with momentum, and pump the bike through and push through turns, using the body to keep momentum through the course.”
Next to the pump track is a parkour course and a field with off-road biking and walking trails that wind their way through wildflowers.
It’s not your typical playground. The idea is to provide access to alternative sports for kids who aren’t interested in soccer, football, baseball, and the like.
“I run a program called 1PVD cycling which is a high-school racing program that focuses on kids who don’t have access to what is a relatively exclusionary sport,” Green said. “And before this was all built, I was here with one of my students and we were looking at this space and we thought, ‘This is a perfect practice spot.’”
While this space is being used to bring alternative outdoor activity to an urban area, it’s also the cherry on the cake of a brownfield restoration effort.
Once home to the Lincoln Lace and Braid mill, which burned down in 1994, the space was riddled with rubble and polluted soil. It was originally slated to be a passive vegetated area after remediation.
“Unfortunately, we had an issue with ATVs regularly using the area and potentially damaging the cap,” said Lisa Aurecchia, WRWC’s director of projects.
So when Green and some of his students came up with the bicycle/park idea, it provided a unique solution.
“We kind of walked into an idea that everyone really ran with,” Green said.
But it wasn’t easy. To make the area safe for adventure activity took another three years, demolishing what was left of the mill, removing contaminated debris, covering contaminated soil with an impervious cap, and installing rain gardens and native plants to reduce flooding.
“It was always a struggle finding a use for this space because it was a brownfield, but you see this hidden space, and it’s a quiet space which is actually really beautiful,” Green said. “That sort of helped us decide to go forward with it, because yes it has these complications but this is a gem. We’ve got greenway already built onto it, we’re connected to two other parks in this area, and there’s neighborhoods around that could utilize it. We thought, it’s too good a space to leave alone, let’s make something out of it.”