Salter Grove Memorial State Park is in for some major improvements that its advocates are hopeful will bring a new restorative life to the unique piece of open space for Pawtuxet neighbors and park visitors.
Two projects have now officially moved forward at the park. One is to make safety improvements to the causeway leading out to the breakwater, a popular fishing spot, which has been damaged throughout the course of its more than 60-year history.
This $200,000 project is funded through the Rhode Island Recreational Trails Program administered through the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The city does not have to match any funding, but they were responsible for going out to bid and selecting a contractor, which the Warwick City Council approved Monday night – the bid was awarded to Narragansett Dock Works Inc., with a provision that work will be completed by Dec. 31, 2019.
In the shorter term, the park will be replacing its outdated recreational equipment and installing a new handicap-accessible play area and re-furnishing the park with new picnic tables, trash receptacles and perhaps more through a $100,000 grant received as part of $3 million in open space grants awarded to 19 communities throughout Rhode Island by DEM in April (part of the 2016 Green Economy Bond that totaled $35 million). This project will hopefully be completed by the fall.
City officials including Ward 1 Councilman Richard Corley, Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister and Acting Mayor Joseph Solomon were on hand with Rep. Joseph McNamara and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey who gathered to welcome Governor Gina Raimondo to the park grounds to look at where the grant money is going on Tuesday afternoon.
“They want it to be bright and safe and clean and bring the community here. I've heard all about it and I wanted to see it for myself,” Raimondo said. “It's definitely my first time walking out here. I had no idea how beautiful it was...You have to get out of the office and see it for yourself.”
McNamara and Friends of Salter Grove members provided Raimondo with a brief history of the park, which used to be known as the Warwick Downs when it was utilized as a beach. Today, the park provides a little bit of everything – kayakers unloaded their boats and dipped into Pawtuxet Cove as Raimondo looked on from the beginning of the causeway. The park also has wooded areas and open areas for recreational activities. Dr. Marina Wong, a retired tropical biologist, utilizes the park to occasionally teach hands-on lessons about the environment to kids from St. Peter School just down the road.
“These are the best kinds of projects because it's really not that much money, but it transforms this whole area and the community is behind it,” Raimondo said. “I'm a big believer in parks and bike paths and public spaces. It brings the community together and should be something everybody ought to be able to use for free.”
Park advocates were excited about both projects. They feel the causeway project is necessary to prevent a possible tragedy where someone may become trapped on the breakwater after the tide rises, or perhaps a slip and fall on the precarious rocks leading out to the breakwater where it has degraded over time. The recreational upgrade, while in its initial phases at the moment, should be an opportunity to create a cleaner more accessible space for all.
“Friends of Salter Grove is delighted that both Governor Raimondo and Mayor Solomon have expressed their personal interest and support for our efforts to improve the amenities at Salter Grove and restore it as a park serving both the neighborhood and the broader community who enjoy this natural gem,” said Peter Becker, coordinator of the Friends of Salter Grove.
Raimondo mentioned how she has urged the legislature to approve a $48.5 million Green Economy and Clean Water Bond to be place on the ballot for November, which could potentially open up more available funding to make more improvements to Salter Grove or other parks and open spaces throughout the state.
“I think Rhode Islanders will approve it,” she said. “Let the people decide, hopefully they'll go for it and that will be tens of millions of dollars invested in clean water, open space and bike paths.”
Corley, while happy with the improvements slated for the park, said on Tuesday that there were still some issues that he felt should be discussed, such as how the concrete driveway providing access may be allowing contaminants from Narragansett Parkway to wash into the bay and whether or not an increase in traffic to the park will result in people parking in the surrounding neighborhood due to a lack of sufficient spots at the park.
“This is a step in the right direction, but how we can try to get the most use out of it is something that is going to take some work and going to take some buy-in from all the neighbors,” he said.