Riverbend Park is new and improved

From left, Riverbend Park Subcommittee member Rich Minnick, state Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-105th District, and Jeff Smith, owner of EJ Smith Company, talk by the Naugatuck River on Tuesday at Riverbend Park in Beacon Falls during a ceremony celebrating the official opening of the park. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Officials showed off the new and improved Riverbend Park on Tuesday.

In 2001, the town turned a 1.5 acre parcel of land off of Nancy Avenue it owns into a “pocket park” with the hope of giving people access to the Naugatuck River.

Sixteen years later, the park has more than doubled in size and includes over 1,000 feet of riverfront, about 2,200 feet of improved trails, a ramp with a water break for the retrieval of canoes and kayaks, and low-impact lighting. Officials and volunteers have spent the past several years working to expand and improve the park.

“Thank you all, sincerely, for all the time you spent at this park,” said Riverbend Park Subcommittee Chairman Dominic Sorrentino during a ceremony to officially open the park. “You are a great team. The successful outcome is the result of all your hard work and dedication. Thank you for the pleasure and privilege of working with you.”

In 2014, the town received a $100,000 state grant to make improvements at the park.

At about the same time, the town began acquiring parcels adjacent to original parcel to expand the park, including properties at 17 and 19 Nancy Ave., two state properties totaling 0.22 acres, and a nearly half-acre property at the corner of Nancy Avenue and Hubbell Avenue.

Last year, the subcommittee received an additional $19,000 to complete all the work on the park and prepare it for public use.

“From really digging in and first shovel in the ground to getting us here today, eight months. That is unbelievable and is practically unprecedented,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said. “It is such an impressive group of actions that really pulled this together in such a short amount of time.”

“This opens up a whole section of the river for people who are avid fisherman, and for canoeing and kayaking,” Bielik added.

Sorrentino said the opening of the park creates another place for families to go Beacon Falls.

“It’s always a plus to know that you can bring your family and children to a safe place to go fishing. I know it’s a small area, but it is a nice area for seniors or taking the grandkids out for a walk along the river,” Sorrentino said.

Though it is not a big park, the town hopes that it will be part of the Naugatuck River Greenway eventually. The planned greenway is a 44-mile trail that will eventually extend from Derby to Torrington.

“We are hoping, by opening up the extension, we will be able to tie it into the greenway,” Sorrentino said.

Now that the park is officially open, Al Concilio of Trout Unlimited, the non-profit that helped create the park from the beginning, encouraged residents to come enjoy it and spread the word about it.

“There are a lot of people in Beacon Falls who don’t realize what we have, especially because this is kind of in a corner and you don’t go by it every day. But go out and tell all the folks you know to come down here and use it,” Concilio said.