HAVERHILL — The City Council has asked Mayor James Fiorentini to form a commission to oversee Merrimack River Park on Route 110, which is the midst of a revival after being shunned and shuttered for 15 years.
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 city reopened half the park last year for the summer months and the same section was re-opened again earlier this week. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. until October.
The western end of the park, which includes a gully where people used to hide while doing illegal activities, has remained blocked by barriers and kept off limits.
But neighbors of the picturesque property, who have been taking care of the park, planting flowers and watching over the area, recently asked the mayor and council 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.
The mayor said he was concerned about additional costs in opening the whole park and the possible return of crime.
But following a recent meeting with park neighbors, he said the city will open a portion of the closed section in July. 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, the mayor said. The new section will add at least four more parking spaces for visitors, he said.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to ask the mayor to form a commission of neighbors and city officials to oversee the park. The council pushed for a similar commission of residents last year to oversee Veteran’s Memorial Skating Rink in back of the high school, in response to concerns about the condition of the facility.