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A Little Water Music? How About Three Ponds And A Fountain

Ingenious Plan Would Restore Historic Flow To Hartford's Bushnell Park

January 8, 2006
Editorial By Courant

For several years, The Courant has pushed for the return of the Park River through downtown Hartford. The river, a tributary of the Connecticut, was buried in stages beginning in 1943 for flood control. Since then, it has flowed underground through a concrete conduit, unseen and unappreciated.

To their credit, city officials formed a task force in 2004 to look into the possibility of recovering the river. They consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and quickly pronounced the undertaking potentially too costly to achieve.

Enter Chuck Sheehan, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan District Commission. He has served with the Corps of Engineers and he knows Hartford's underpinnings intimately. Before joining the MDC, he led the Capital City Economic Development Authority and shepherded the construction of Adriaen's Landing.

In less than a year in his new job, Mr. Sheehan has come up with a creative, even ingenious, plan that reflects the can-do spirit and innovation that Hartford was known for in its heyday. He said he was inspired by The Courant's vision of unburying the Park River.

Mr. Sheehan and the MDC propose a three-pond water feature through Bushnell Park, roughly along the former path of the Park River. The river once meandered under the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, along Jewell Street, then jogged south toward Pulaski Circle and went on down to the Connecticut River.

The beauty of this proposal is that the water feature would be a functional part of the MDC's nearly billion-dollar project now underway to separate storm drainage from sewer pipes in the Hartford region and to upgrade its treatment plant. That project is expected to take about 15 years to complete.

The Bushnell Park water feature is estimated to cost as little as $1 million to $3 million, depending on architectural amenities such as lighting and landscaping. The cost would be covered under the allotment for water storage as part of the MDC's sewer separation budget. As Mr. Sheehan points out, this is an opportunity to turn a public works necessity into a legacy that would be enjoyed for generations.

Here's how it would work:

The MDC would tap a Class A stream called Gully Brook, which flows from Bloomfield. Water would be diverted to Bushnell Park at its north end near the Corning Fountain. The first pond would be dug next to the fountain, approximately along the historic route of the Park River. Clean, sparkling water would then flow from the pond via gravity drains under Trumbull Street and resurface in the existing pond near the carousel, which would be fresher for having water run through it.

Then the water would pass through another gravity drain underground to a third pond, about equal in size to the other two, that would be near the pump house at the southeastern edge of the park. The Gully Brook water would then empty into the Park River conduit and mingle with the river on its subterranean journey to the Connecticut.

These ponds would not only replicate the look and feel of the historic river that once flowed through Bushnell Park, minus the pollution. They would also serve as retention ponds to prevent downstream flooding during peak flows. Floodgates would be installed at the Park River conduit that could be closed if the Connecticut River rises too high.

What's more, construction of the two new ponds would be accomplished with minimal disruption of existing park features, such as walkways and specimen trees.

This is an exciting idea that merits serious consideration by the agencies whose approval is required or desired, including the Bushnell Park Foundation, city staff and pertinent commissions, and Riverfront Recapture.

If the regulatory process goes smoothly, Mr. Sheehan and the MDC expect to develop a final design by 2007 and have the water flowing by 2008. What perfect timing for the influx of downtown residents who will be moving into the apartments and condominiums now being planned and developed around the park.

We have not given up on the idea of one day replacing the Whitehead Highway and its river of motor vehicles with a water feature and green space, a la San Antonio and Providence. It would be an ideal spot to refresh downtown strollers and tie the future Front Street retail district with Coltsville. It would make navigating downtown streets pleasant rather than perilous.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sheehan's concept for bringing the soothing sound of water back to Bushnell Park is a functional, plausible, creative step toward restoring the city's grandeur that Hartford would be foolish to pass up.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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