Have you ever tried to walk from the Town Common to Ipswich River Park?
As the crow flies, it’s a hop, skip and a jump between these open spaces. Of course, you can’t hop, skip, and jump “as the crow flies” because there are too many things in the way. Things like roads, fences, trees, private property, and the Ipswich River. In fact, to get between these places, you have to walk quite a distance down Haverhill Street to the official entrance at the south end of the fields. It’s not that far really – not much more than half a mile – but it sure feels like a long way. It’s worse because, as you walk down Haverhill Street, you can see the park the whole time but you just can’t get there! It’s like the carrot at the end of the stick that you just can’t grab.
Wouldn’t it be nice if these two areas were more directly connected? IRP is already a proud centerpiece for the town, hosting a wide range of activities. The town common is the most visually striking area in town incorporating the Third Meeting House, the library, the schools, the historic Putnam House and more. With a better connection between these two settings, a family could enjoy an afternoon in the park combined with a walk to the library; the soccer teams from the High School, that practice on the IRP fields, would have a shorter “commute” each day; the Batchelder School kids would have easier access for Field Days and outings; and maybe the Town Center’s businesses could even see increased foot traffic from park visitors. We might even see a bit less traffic circling the area!
Looking around a bit, there are at least a few possibilities for shortening the elongated route. One approach, for which the town already owns all the land that would be necessary, would be an entrance just across Park Street from the Arthur J. Kenney turf field. By the looks of the ground in there, I’m sure there are wetlands issues that would need to be worked out, but what if there was a nice elevated walkway through the wetlands, a footbridge over the river, and then a path through the woods to the park? This route is probably a long shot but it would be an inviting option offering nearly direct access from the schools and an easy walk from the Common.
Perhaps a bit more feasible and not requiring bridge construction would be an additional IRP entrance on the Haverhill Street side. There’s already a pretty well-established but illegal shortcut that involves a path through the woods emerging on the old railroad bed behind North Reading Auto. There’s a fence that must be circumnavigated and outrunning the shop owners is sometimes necessary, but it shortens the walk substantially. There also seem to be some even more clandestine routes through various residential lots along Haverhill Street. Several of the homeowners report having frequent issues with trespassers cutting through their private property.
A perusal of the town’s GIS property maps together with some Google satellite shots shows there may be some opportunities to establish official access here. There’s land along the south side of the Ipswich River that might join the railroad bed path to Haverhill Street or perhaps one of the un-cleared areas between some of the residences might be available to the town in exchange for a zoning variance or proper remuneration. One of these routes, properly developed, fenced, policed, and maintained could become an attractive walkway and significantly shorten the walking distance.
We are blessed with some first class open spaces and recreational areas near our beautiful and historic town common. Tying them together with a functional and direct pedestrian walkway could only enhance their appeal and encourage their use. There do seem to be some practical opportunities to accomplish this and I, for one, am hoping the Parks Department and other town boards and committees are considering such solutions. I can’t wait for them to “let me wander over yonder.”