By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said the city will open a larger section of Merrimack River Park on Route 110 later this summer, but not the entire property as neighbors had wanted.
The city reopened half the park last summer for several months after it had been closed for about 15 years, and it will reopen the same section tomorrow. It is to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Oct. 1.
The park, which is sandwiched between Route 110 and the Merrimack River near the Methuen line, was closed around 1998 because it became a place for criminal activity, including partying, drug use and sexual liaisons.
The western end of the park, which includes a gully where people used to hide while doing illegal activities, was blocked by barriers and kept off limits last year.
But earlier this month a group of neighbors who have been taking care of the park convinced City Council to support their request to open the entire property. Opening the closed section, they said, would offer a much-needed parking area, as well as better access to the river for activities such as fishing, kayaking and canoeing.
At the time, Fiorentini said he was undecided about the request, citing concerns about additional costs and the possible return of crime to the park.
But following a meeting Saturday with park neighbors, Fiorentini said the city will open a portion of the section that had remained closed in July. He said the city will remove the barriers and open part of the western end after a light fixture there is fixed and re-activated, a video camera is installed and some trees and brush are cut and trimmed to improve visibility from the road. He said the new section will add at least four more parking spaces for visitors.
“There were 15 to 20 neighbors at Saturday’s meeting and they were all pleased with what we’re going to do,” the mayor said.
Last year’s opening was a big success, with neighbors keeping the park clean and planting flowers, watching for trouble-makers, and opening the gate in the morning and closing it at night.
The reopening last summer occurred after the city spent several weeks trimming and cutting back trees and dense brush along the river. The work opened views of the waterway and made it easier for police to spot anyone in the park after hours.
Since then, a group of volunteers including residents Dick LeBlond, Elaine Barker, Stephen Breen, Judi Poirier, Jim Ferguson and others have been maintaining the park, including opening and closing the gate in the morning and evening. They also have been keeping an eye out for trespassers and potential trouble-makers.