HAVERHILL — If you enjoy the walking path along the Merrimack River at the back of Riverside Park, you are going to love the new, improved version of it even more.
ANJ Construction of Peabody, the same firm that did the project at the skate park at Cashman Field last year, will rebuild and repave that crumbling walkway.
As part of a $328,000 improvement and beautification project for the city's most popular recreation area, new pressure-treated guard rails will be installed where the parking lot meets the trail. Decorative fencing will be added along the river's side of the path, too, as will new drainage.
Also, parking spaces will be more clearly defined.
"I love this trail and I walk it every morning with Elvis, my service dog," said Ralph Basiliere, vice chairman of the city's Conservation Commission. "Anything the city can do to improve access to the river, we're all for it."
On Thursday, Mayor James Fiorentini celebrated the launch of the project, for which $138,000 of the total cost is coming from a Gateway Cities Grant and the rest from the city's capital budget.
"We want residents to have a beautiful view of the river ... an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life," the mayor said.
Fiorentini said the multi-part project builds on recent improvements to the stadium's athletic fields in the 50-acre recreational complex, as well as tree trimming and shoreline stabilization efforts along the river at the back of the park which is located at 155 Lincoln Ave.
The mayor said he has made building and improving parks and playgrounds across the city a priority for his administration, in addition to making property along the river more attractive and accessible to the public.
A major part of the work now taking place at Riverside Park includes upgrading and extending the walking path along the water. The existing pedestrian walkway, accessed from Nettleton Avenue, is being replaced with a new asphalt walkway, along with a realignment of the path. In total, the park features 1.4 miles of trails throughout the sprawling property.
Other improvements will include new bike racks, picnic tables and benches that will be placed in areas where there is shade, which is something Basiliere said makes sense.
"If you don't put benches in the shade, no one will use them," he said.
A picnic area with new trees for shade will be placed near the basketball courts and playground. Shade trees will also be planted near park entrances and updated signage will be installed.
All existing trees in and around the project area will be protected during construction, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.
While it is not part of the project, Fiorentini said the city also plans to build a pickleball court in the park and install more playground equipment.
Haverhill stadium, located at the front of the park along Lincoln Avenue, has also undergone extensive repairs and upgrades in recent years.
Originally constructed in 1936, the stadium was a product of the Works Progress Administration, a federal agency created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help America out of the Great Depression.
The stadium’s rich history includes hosting the New England Patriots' first exhibition game in the 1960s. Legend has it that baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played games there, too.
James Pfeiffer of the Brown, Richardson & Rowe landscape architectural firm is the contractor for the park improvement project.