Mayor hopes to breathe new life into forgotten land
NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess is hoping to expand the borough’s recreation options by restoring some of its history.
Hess has set his sights on revitalizing Thurston Pond and Salem Park, and creating a new park off Nichols Road that would include access to the Larkin State Bridle Trail.
“People don’t appreciate what we have, and I believe with very little expense we can bring back some of these historical areas that can now be used for recreational purposes,” Hess said.
Salem Park, which is between Meadow Street and Fairview Avenue, has been in existence for many years and still serves as an access way to downtown, Hess said. Google Maps identifies the park as Lewis Park, though Hess referred to as it Salem Park.
Hess, who grew up on Fairview Avenue, recalled the park from when he was young. However, the borough hasn’t kept up with maintaining the park, which is behind Salem School and next to Hillside Intermediate School, for the past 40 years, Hess said.
The park, which is about 8 acres, is overgrown with shrubs and trees, and garbage is strewn throughout the woods.
Remnants of the original park can still be seen on the grounds, including a stone staircase that leads from the basketball court next to Salem School up to Fairview Avenue and a path that runs adjacent to the street.
“It used to be a very attractive park to walk in and was used regularly by residents to walk back and forth to downtown,” Hess said. “It’s deteriorated, overgrown and not maintained to the level it should be.”
The park also features a stone bandstand near the parking lot across from Hillside Intermediate School. The bandstand has been destroyed over time, and all that remains is a ring of stones about a foot high and 15 feet in diameter.
The band stand hasn’t been used for at least the past 60 years, Hess said.
“I would like to bring that back and have it as a potential location for town events,” Hess said.
Behind Thurston Energy Inc. on Rubber Avenue is Thurston Pond, which sits on a 30-acre parcel of land.
The pond, which was created after a dam was built across Long Meadow Pond Brook, was once a popular fishing spot in the borough, Hess said.
“I remember fishing in there. I even remember where the best fishing spot was,” Hess said.
Prior to being used as a recreation area, the pond served a commercial purpose. In the early 1900s, the Thurston Ice House, which was the predecessor to Thurston Energy, used it to make ice to sell, Hess said.
Due to years of inactivity, silt has started to fill the pond, which is fed by Long Meadow Pond Brook.
Today, the pond is small and overgrown with shrubs and cattails. In its heyday, the pond had two beaches, Hess said.
“It looks like a swamp, but it didn’t used to. Where you see the brush used to be all open water. That brush is, in essence, growing out of the silt that was never there,” Hess said.
Lanxess, which is the successor to Chemutura Corp., owns the pond, according to Hess, but the borough has an easement that allows it to use the pond for recreational activities in perpetuity.
The pond would need to be dredged to get rid of all the silt and bushes, and it won’t be used for swimming again, Hess said. However, it can be used for fishing, and Hess envisions walking trails and a picnic area there.
“It has the potential to be a very attractive recreation area,” Hess said.
Currently, there’s no way to access the pond by vehicle, but the borough owns land that borders the pond and has an access way to Rubber Avenue, Hess said.
In addition to bringing those two parks back, Hess wants to create a new park on 10 acres of borough-owned land on Nichols Road near Shadduck Brook.
The land is made up of two adjacent parcels on the east side of the road.
“If you walk back there and look to the left, you are going to see beautiful fields that are owned by the borough,” Hess said.
Hess envisions the park would be used primarily for passive recreation, with hiking and walking trails and an area with picnic tables.
Hess said he only realized the borough owned the land when work was being done on the Nichols Road culvert that collapsed in November.
“I happen to live right behind them and I have been walking in those fields for 15 years. Until we did this Nichols Road project I was under the impression that it was water company property,” Hess said.
The new park would be directly across the street from more than 100 acres of borough property that has access to the Larkin State Bridle Trail, Hess said.
Hess said he plans to work on the parks over the next two years. He said the parks would give residents something new to do in the borough, and the work can be done at a minimal cost.