Riverfront Park
Providing Residents Access to the River

Riverfront Park, located on Anthony Road just south of the Yacht Club, is Longmeadow's newest site for public recreation and relaxation. The park offers residents access to over 300 feet of shoreline and a serene and pastoral setting to view the mighty Connecticut River as it courses towards the sea, some eighty miles to the south.

Years back, two homes occupied the two properties at 200 and 216 Anthony Road. Located at the end of an unpaved road in a remote area right on the edge of the river, the two homes fell into disrepair. Foreclosure soon followed. I am told squatters eventually had to be evicted, and one home was gutted by arsonists. Eventually, both were demolished.

Instrumental in the development of Riverfront Park was Bill Scibelli, Attorney and member of our Select board. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Bill and learn more about this wonderful new space. Bill served on the Conservation Commission from 1996 to 2004, and was its head for six of those years. During that time, residents had responded to a town-wide survey indicating that access to the riverfront was something they really wanted. The Conservation Commission, in an effort spearheaded by Bill Scibelli and in cooperation with the Town Clerk's Office, acquired the first parcel of land in 2001 and the other the following year. The grounds will be maintained by the Park Board.

Riverfront Park, according to Bill, represents a radical departure from Longmeadow's other recreation areas, such as Bliss Park, Turner Park and Wolf Swamp Fields. Whereas those parks and others are most frequently the sites for rigorous and raucous competitions, Riverfront Park will cater to what he termed "passive recreation". Indeed, just the drive there will put you in the mood. I traveled there recently to experience it. Driving or biking down Emerson Road, go over the railroad tracks and take an immediate right onto Anthony Road. You have now left the 21st century! Anthony Road is an unpaved sand trail, which goes due north for maybe a quarter-mile, and then abruptly jogs west towards the river. You are now in the land of the original settlers… Masacksic… "The Long Meadow". As you head towards the river, you will see the Yacht Club to your right. Straight ahead you will see an unobtrusive wooden guardrail. You have found Riverfront Park. Just to the right as you enter is a small parking area covered with natural wood chips.


The original two parcels of land are separated by a row of hemlock bushes. There is a simple pedestrian entrance in the wooden fence. Walking through it, you have entered a spacious field, which extended approximately 150 yards to the river's edge. There was no one else around on this particular morning. More importantly, the absence of litter made it feel like no one had been there at all…yet. As I strolled to the picnic table, the steady drone of traffic on Route 91 behind me was soon offset by the peaceful sounds of the coursing river. The familiar sounds of backyard songbirds were replaced by the primitive calls of unusual waterfowl. The trees that grow not only next to, but right out of the river possess a strange and majestic quality. Covered with deeply furrowed bark, these silent sentinels curve and arch overhead in a sinuous way, creating a cathedral-like atmosphere.


At water's edge, any reminders of Route 91 are gone. There is a simple slope at the southern end of this bank, which can be used to launch a canoe or kayak. Motorized boats are not allowed. The water at your feet is deceptively tranquil. A few yards out, however, the situation is totally different. Swift waters move rapidly over deep channels. Bill Scibelli warns that getting caught in one of these rapids could put you in Windsor Locks in no time flat.

Sitting at the picnic table, or lounging on the grass, it is both fascinating and mesmerizing to watch the river flow. Dylan's tune of the same name came quickly to mind. Living by the ocean for most my life, I was used to seeing the subtle ebb and flow of the tides; like clockwork every six hours or so. The Connecticut is a vigorous river that courses steadily, with Yankee energy and efficiently, in one direction. The sight of millions of gallons of water passing by raised transcendental questions. Originating on the Canadian border from two small lakes, the waterway soon became a powerful force of not only nature, but also commerce, trade and history. As it sweeps before us, it seems to take our thought with it as it ventures seaward. Around Essex, Connecticut, its waters become brackish and the effect of the ocean's tides become apparent, causing it to widen gradually. A few miles below, it flows beneath the Baldwin Bridge, which spans Lyme and Old Saybrook. The river here is a favorite wintering place for the bald eagle, which feeds on its generous fish population. At its mouth, the river is almost a mile wide and is a beautiful sight to see. One thinks about Mark Twain. Oh, of course! The river ran right past his home in Hartford. Undoubtedly the river swept him up as well!

But I digress. We are very fortunate to have this new vista here in our little town. Through the efforts of Bill Scibelli and the Conservation Commission, along with the Park Board; we now have a beautiful quiet place to visit with access to our mighty river. As the saying goes, take nothing but pictures…leave nothing but footprints.


Witch Hazel

Downriver around Essex was the site of the original T.N Dickinson Company. An historic American company that has endured for centuries, the T.N. Dickinson Company made only one thing…Witch Hazel. I had the opportunity to visit the company a number of years ago. A mild astringent and cleansing agent familiar to everyone, Witch Hazel is an herbal extract derived from a small flowering shrub found almost exclusively on the banks of the Connecticut River. This shrub, Hammamelis, was known by two name "Witch" and "Snapping" Hazel. It was called Witch Hazel by the early settlers, who learned of its medicinal healing properties from the local Native Americans, who used witch hazel bark and twigs in a tea taken internally, or a poultice applied externally. The settlers subsequently refined the process for extracting the essential oils from the pulp material through a distillation process. The resulting clear liquid has become an American tradition. The name Snapping Hazel comes from the way the plant propagates itself. Upon reaching maturity, the seedpod literally "snaps", ejecting the seeds some distance from the parent, so as to avoid overcrowding.

Don't expect to find this magic shrub around Riverfront Park. It needs the soil conditions found near brackish water!

Check out The Watch Hill Gallery- Bob Lezinski's website for historical sketches,
postcards and photos of Springfield MA, Westerly, RI and other areas of interest.

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