Natalie Coe loves living in the friendly “fishing village” that is Fair Haven, despite just a few flaws—like the perennial dump site beneath the I-91 underpass above Front Street at Middletown Avenue.
She and her neighbors are doing something about it—planning a beautification project, the latest to target a highway underpass.
A dozen community activists and neighbors like Coe met on rainy Friday afternoon for an organizing meeting on how to reduce pollution, beautify the underpass with tag-and-water-resistant art, and extend the Dover Beach Park to Middletown Avenue turning the corner into a gateway celebrating Fair Haven’s people, river, and wildlife.
The work will be an extension of the years-long efforts to enhance Dover Beach Park and its immediate neighborhood, a riverine oasis right across from the Quninipiac Terrace housing development.
The main elements include making the perennial dump site less attractive to dumpers and more attractive to residents, park users, birders, fisherfolk, and people who drive by through doing the following:
• Decorating 20 spaces, on both sides of the highway structure’s ten stanchions, with decal-like photographs of the river, the neighbors, and wildlife.
• Lobbying the city to put in a sidewalk and curbing along Front Street while maintaining and upgrading the fence.
• Eliminating the fence that blocks off the continuation of Dover Beach Park under the overpass, effectively extending, onto state land, the park all the way to Middletown Avenue.
• Eliminating invasive species.
• Lobbying the state Department of Transportation, which has been at work on parts of the underpass, to increase and maintain lighting.
• Adding signage both about wildlife and, along the Middletown Avenue fence, welcome messages to Fair Haven along with area business advertising.
The ambitious effort—requiring city and state approvals—is no pipe dream. The park neighbors’ efforts have attracted a new playground and improved sea wall, but dumping nearby has been a problem hard to eliminate.
Although beautification and anti-blight efforts have been attempted in the past, many involving volunteers like Coe and area activist organizations like the Friends of Dover Beach Park and the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association, this new initiative arrives with a schedule, a plan, and $10,000 in hand.
The money is a grant, awarded in February, from the Quinnipiac River Fund (administered by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven), said Urban Resources Initiative Associate Director Chris Ozyck.
Partners in the grant are also Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has designated the Dover Beach Park area an urban wildlife oasis.
URI Intern Michael Bruno, a UConn landscape architecture student, will lead the efforts, with meetings scheduled in the days ahead to get some more community input on the art installations. They will likely be produced by Q-River portraitist Ian Christmann.
“It’s going to let people know this is a neighborhood,” said Chatham Square Neighborhood Association’s Lee Cruz.
Dover Beach neighbor Brent Bissell asked if the art, in both directions, might present a traffic problem, with people slowing and not paying attention to the road.
Ozyck replied that that would be a good problem. “If we activate the space, people will care more,” and illegal dumping will be reduced, he said.
Coe said she intends to volunteer as much as her schedule and life as a single mom permit. “I absolutely love this neighborhood,” she said.
Ozyck said that if permissions are granted and all goes well, the work, the art, the plantings, and the fence enhancements should be in full swing this summer.
“Let’s start by doing some stewardship, removing some invasives,” he announced.
That had to be put off temporarily due to the mid-afternoon downpour.