By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — A scenic rest area at the edge of the Merrimack River is getting some extra loving care, just as residents on that side of town promised. Since the city reopened the area on Route 110 near the Methuen line this summer, a group of volunteers have been maintaining it and keeping watch so that it doesn’t return to the kind of magnet for criminal activity that forced the city to lock the gates 15 years ago.
With autumn upon us, those volunteers are maintaining a daily presence by opening the gates in the morning and locking them at night, as well as dropping by during the day. They recently spruced it up with corn stalks and other seasonal decorations.
“It gives the area that fall look without being overwhelming,” said volunteer Dick LeBlond.
Now more improvements are planned for the area these volunteers have essentially adopted. They want to install solar-powered lighting while the city plans to install security cameras linked to police monitoring.
The rest area is set to close Oct. 1 and volunteers are hoping to get as much accomplished in the few weeks they have left.
“This is only our first year and maybe the closing date will be extended, depending on the weather,” LeBlond said.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he is working with police to have security cameras installed in the park by this fall or at the latest by next spring, in time for the reopening of the rest area. Although the area is commonly referred to as the Hannah Duston Rest Area, the mayor said it was never officially named that and that it’s now being referred to as the “Merrimack River Park,” or simply “River Park.”
“We also plan to put in cameras at Swasey Field and other parks,” Fiorentini said, adding that funding for cameras will come from the trust of a former resident, Elmo D’Allessandro. The money was given to the city under the condition that it be used exclusively for law enforcement.
“Next year we’ll put in a security gate with a remote control lock,” the mayor said. “You can’t ask volunteers to open and close the park forever.”
Fiorentini said there have been no incidents at the rest area since it was reopened in June.
“The only complaint I’ve had is that people want more of the area open,” Fiorentini said. “I don’t want to open the area close to Methuen, as that’s where the problems were years ago. But we did clear the area to see it better from the street. We cut back trees and brush to make it visible.”
Fiorentini said he’d like to see some improvements made that will make it easier for people to launch kayaks and canoes and to fish.
“The more people that use it, the safer and better it will be,” Fiorentini said. “What you don’t want is an isolated park. That’s when you have problems.”
Last Saturday morning, LeBlond along with Stephen Breen, Judi Poirier and Jim Ferguson — all regular volunteers — met at the rest area for a general clean up. Poirier brought coffee, Breen brought cornbread and LeBlond brought hot apple cider donated by Mann Orchards in Methuen. They offered the treats to everyone who dropped by.
Poirier also brought a pumpkin decoration and 12 bundles of eight corn stalks each donated by Srybny Farms. She tied them to a bulletin board in the center of the park while Ferguson attached some stalks to posts at the entrance and in other areas.