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
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.
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