The Falmouth Board of Selectmen on Monday, November 18, voted unanimously to accept a $295,000 donation from The 300 Committee Land Trust for construction of a handicapped-accessible river loop trail and trailhead parking near John Parker Road.
The lower portion of the Coonamessett River has been restored, with a loop trail with two boardwalks at Swift’s Crossing and Dexter’s Mill Crossing.
“We want to create that ring road and make it accessible to everybody, and part of this project is to adjust the fire road that is there now, so the surface can receive wheelchairs and any other person that wants to receive access to the area,” said David Nielsen of Stimson Studio. “Part of that would be to add this overlook and parking lot to John Parker Road to delicately put a bridge crossing that arcs around to offer a view of the restored river from a vantage point at the level of the road, rather than down low at the river.”
The bridge would be a wood, steel and concrete structure. It would sit on the east side of the Coonamessett River. The old granite dam will be re-purposed as seating and retention areas to mitigate erosion issues. The donation also includes $5,000 for informational signs in the parking lot.
A model of the proposed overlook was shown to selectmen.
“You are blowing our minds,” Selectman Susan L. Moran said.
Jessica K. Whritenour, executive director of The 300 Committee Trust, said the trust is pleased to support the project.
“The need for accessible trails, that is something we’re really working to expand,” Ms. Whritenour said. “The opportunity here was to put together a $295,000 private fundraising, so that we could ensure handicap accessibility to the main river loop trail.”
Selectmen Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga described the donation and project as “really spectacular.”
“Nature is something that is really cut off from people with a variety of disabilities, particularly people who are in wheelchairs,” Ms. English Braga said. “Nature can be really overwhelming and intimidating when you have those obstacles in front of you, so to be able to plan an afternoon out and be able to enjoy and know that this is a space made with your access in mind is really tremendous.”
Ms. Moran said the project represents a big change in the neighborhood. She asked if the neighbors had been contacted. Conservation commission member Elizabeth H. Gladfelter said the commission has hosted several public meetings on this project, and she continues to meet people and take their suggestions.
Selectman Samuel H. Patterson said the overlook will be a major benefit for the town and its schools.
“It will be a tremendous resource for the town for many, many years into the future,” Mr. Patterson said.
Ms. Gladfelter said the parking lot would improve access for students visiting the river. School buses bringing children to the river currently stop and let the students out on John Parker Road. Noting she has seen drivers speed past those stopped school buses, letting children off in a parking lot will allow for safer access.
Per The 300 Committee’s request, selectmen agreed any surplus money would be returned to the land trust. Ms. Whritenour said if any funding is returned, the committee will “find ways to ensure that they stay, somehow, for supporting the Coonamessett Greenway.”