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August 14, 2013

Crime-ridden park makes comeback

Volunteers: Hannah Duston Rest Area thriving

HAVERHILL — Naysayers poked fun at the city after it reopened the Hannah Duston Rest Area along the river.

They said that in time, the area will revert back to the kind of trouble spot that led to its being closed to the public 15 years ago.

But volunteers like Dick LeBlond and Stephen Breen said they’re not going to let it happen and are keeping a close eye on the park. They said they’re determined to prove the pessimists wrong.

LeBlond, who about a year ago began urging Mayor James Fiorentini to reopen the park, said neighbors along with other Haverhill residents, the city and police are not going to let it become a gathering spot for partying, drugs and sexual encounters which commonly happened there before the city closed the area in 1998.

“It used to be open all night, which was an invitation for trouble,” LeBlond said. “Now it’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and we’re keeping an eye on things.”

LeBlond said that as a result of a meeting held early last month with the mayor and interested residents, he put together a list of volunteers who have stepped forward to not only help maintain and beautify the area, but also make sure the gate is opened every morning and is locked every night.

“We manage to have someone (there) every day and it’s working out,” LeBlond said. “Police said they’d do their part, so what more could we ask for? So far there haven’t been any problems.’’

The small park located between Route 110 and the Merrimack River near the Methuen line was reopened July 25, after several weeks of trimming and cutting back trees and dense brush along the river. That work opened views of the waterway and made it easier for police to spot anyone in the park after hours. The western end of the park, which includes a gully where people used to hide, will be permanently blocked off with barriers.

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