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Major Improvements to the Charles River Path Proposed, Needs State Funding

Watertown officials will join local groups to donate money if the state donates at least $600,000 toward the $1.6 million project.

Town Councilors heard about big plans to spiff up and improve the area along the Charles River, but how and when it will be funded is the big question.

A number of local private and public groups have joined together to design a slew of improvements to the area along the river between Watertown Square and the Watertown Yacht Club. The total cost: $1.635 million.

The plans, which were drawn up by Sasaki Associates, call for replacement of paths, installation of lookouts, a path for the blind, and improvements to the basketball courts and children’s play area near the river. 

Paying for Improvements

The town would not be on the hook for all or even most of the cost of the project, said Town Councilor Cecilia Lenk. Local groups have pledged $120,000 already, so Lenk and Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett asked their colleagues to set aside $100,000 in the capital projects budget to put toward the project. The donations have been made with two conditions.

“All the money committed (by donors) requires a state commitment and some portions of the project to be completed,” Lenk said.

So far, the Bilezikian Family Foundation has committed up to $50,000 if the state commits at least $500,000 and if the scope of the work is not diminished, Corbett said. The Solomon Fund and Perkins School for the Blind will each chip in $25,000, the Watertown Commission on Disabilities will donate $15,000 and the Watertown Community Foundation will give $5,000, Corbett said.

Lenk said the town could have the same requirement. The Council voted unanimously to ask Town Manager Michael Driscoll to see if the town has $100,000 in the Fiscal 2012 reserves to put toward the project, which would be used if the State provides at least $600,000.

Highlights of the Improvements

Major features of the project include:

  • Replacement of the current path with an unpaved path running the entire length of that side of the river.
  • Four entryways to the path and the river – one near the Founders Monument (close to Watertown Square), one at the bottom of Irving Street, one across from the Perkins School property and one at the bottom of Paul Street.
  • A Braille/sensory trail for those with vision problems. This includes a rope to guide people to areas where items which can be enjoyed using senses of smell, touch and hearing.
  • 14 points of visual or direct access to the water (including overlooks, a dock, places to fish and small beaches)
  • Erosion control along the river

Building the entire project may not be possible, at least in the short term, but Lenk said designers have split the plan into four smaller projects.

Improvements in the Saltonstall Gate area, nearest to Watertown Square, would cost $170,000.

The Irving Street Gate area includes the Braille Trail and a new entryway, which would cost $555,000. A signaled crossing for pedestrians across Charles River Road would bring the total to $690,000.

The Gallery Play area, which includes replacing the basketball court and a granite overlook, would cost $295,000. A new children’s play area would add $205,000.

The Perkins Hill section includes the entryway at Paul Street, building a new section of path to connect the trail along the river and a deck on the river, would cost $275,000.

"I would like to see the whole project completed, but realistically I hope for the completion of one or two of the phases," Lenk said.

John MacNeill April 12, 2012 at 03:11 PM
As our School Committee chair has written, we're in a "...difficult economic period..." So, a private capital campaign should be organized, and those who feel that these projects are vital to the future of the town can contibute. The rest of us would rather spend our money where it's needed.
Joe April 12, 2012 at 04:59 PM
This is great. I'm sure the Perkins students will enjoy being able to walk there and experience all that's around the river. It will be great for all to have a nice path to walk and the overlooks and docks. Wish other towns, Waltham, Brighton, Newton, etc., along the Charles River could do the same. Looking forward to its completion.

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