By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A small park sandwiched between Route 110 and the Merrimack River near the Methuen line that was closed 15 years ago is set to reopen this month.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the city will host a modest celebration July 25 to officially reopen Hannah Duston Rest Area to the public. The secluded, picturesque park was closed around 1998 because it became a place for criminal activity, including partying, drug use, and sexual liaisons.
Going forward, the park will open daily at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., from June 1 to Oct. 1, the mayor said. He said an ordinance is being crafted that will allow police to arrest anyone in the park after hours and to tow any vehicles found there at night.
Local and state police have agreed to keep close watch on the rest area, Fiorentini said, adding that security cameras will also be installed there.
In recent weeks, trees and dense brush along the river have been cut and trimmed to open views of the waterway and to make it easier for police patrols to spot anyone in the park after hours, the mayor said. The western end of the park, which includes a gully where people used to hide from sight, will be permanently blocked off with Jersey barriers, he said.
The new city budget includes several thousand dollars for benches, picnic tables and regular park maintenance, including emptying trash barrels and mowing grass. A private company will be hired to install and dog waste receptacles, the mayor said. The city will eventually install a canoe or kayak launch in the river, he said.
Fiorentini said he is counting on the help of residents who live near the rest area to help keep “the criminal element” from returning.
“The best way to keep bad people from taking it over is to have good people take it over,” the mayor said. “I have asked neighbors to walk their dogs and to picnic there. If this is going to be successful, it’s going to have to be a partnership between the city and the neighbors.”
Fiorentini said about 30 neighbors attended an informational meeting at the park earlier this month and that “everyone there was in support of re-opening it for specific activities such as fishing, walking and picnicking.” Dog-walking will be allowed in the park as long as the animals are on leashes, the mayor said.
A state trooper who attended the neighborhood meeting and lives nearby said state police will help local officers keep a close eye on the park, Fiorentini said.
The park is named after controversial Colonial heroine Hannah Duston. It is believed to be where Duston’s canoe landed after she escaped from a band of Native American Indians who had kidnapped her from her Haverhill home and taken her to New Hampshire.