By Angeljean Chiarmida
---- — SEABROOK — Town officials couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate person than Gov. Maggie Hassan to snip the ribbon yesterday afternoon at the grand opening of its handicapped-accessible Harborside Park.
It isn’t just that she is the state’s highest elected official, and as Town Manager Bill Manzi said, “a longtime friend” of Seabrook, having represented the town for six years as its state senator. It isn’t even that she lives next door in Exeter and that she and her family love the ocean and consider the seacoast “home.”
It’s because Hassan knows better than most the benefit of building a park everyone can enjoy, not just the fleet of foot.
“I’m the mother of a 25-year-old son who is in a wheelchair,” Hassan told the crowd gathered for the park’s dedication yesterday.
Sitting right on Seabrook harbor, with its benches, picnic tables, asphalt walkways and gentle slope down to the water’s edge, the park allows everyone, including her son, Ben, to enjoy the pleasures that abound at New Hampshire’s seacoast, Hassan said.
The coast is a big part of New Hampshire’s second largest industry of tourism, Hassan said, as well as a major part of the state’s quality of life. The park is beautiful in its own right, she said, but opening it up to the disabled who have not been able to access the shore previously makes it innovative, inclusive and generous.
“New Hampshire is an all-hands-on-deck state,” she said. “We don’t wait for people to tell us what to do.”
Seabrook reached out and pulled together local and federal dollars and worked with state and federal agencies for permitting, she said. The result is a great asset that will include more people in the life of the town and also provide an economic draw.
A dream of former Selectman Robert Moore who always wanted a park by the town’s harbor, it took a number of years and more than $120,000 in local and federal monies to build the 1 1/2-acre park set on the picturesque west side of Route 1A, known locally as Ocean Boulevard.
Selectmen handed the project over to John Starkey, director of Seabrook’s Public Works Department and a former member of the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, known as CBs or SeaBees. Starkey chased the federal grants, and his staff built most of the park, even handling the landscaping and yesterday’s celebratory cookout for guests.
Seabrook received its first $18,000 grant in 2006, allowing the project to get off the ground. In 2012, the federal government awarded a $62,300 grant to support the effort. Voters stepped up to the plate in March 2012, approving a $50,000 warrant question, which is the majority of the 50 percent match needed to secure the federal money. The remaining $12,000 came from sweat-equity and in-kind labor.
There have been others who helped, Selectman Aboul Khan said yesterday. A new flagpole was donated by Seabrook businessman Arleigh Green, and money for fencing came from contractors as their way of thanking the town for allowing them to use the harbor to land and move large equipment over the past few years.
Manzi gave credit to town leaders who over the years “had the vision, courage and wherewithal to see it through.”
And there’s more planned for Harborside Park. Town leaders hope to find funding to built a gazebo to hold concerts in the summer.