In December, City Councilors Debora Coelho, Brad Markey, Joe Lopes, Scott Lima, Hugh Dunn, Maria Giesta, Brian Gomes, and Ian Abreu voted to approve $370,000 in funding recommended by the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to purchase, protect, and create parking and gardens on 1.63 acres of land directly across from The Sawmill’s entrance on Mill Road in New Bedford.
The land purchase, completed in January, ensures that the city’s North End will always be the front door to the growing Acushnet River Reserve. It’s also the Coalition’s first-ever land conservation project within the city limits of New Bedford.
The Sawmill has become a treasured neighborhood destination for an estimated 500 visitors a week – ranging from school groups to families to individuals who want to take a peaceful walk through nature just steps from the city. The park’s users include many New Bedford residents even though the reserve was located entirely within Acushnet’s town limits.
In the coming year, the Coalition will improve safe access to The Sawmill for school children, people will mobility impairments, and those looking to explore the river by canoe or kayak. Safety improvements will include a larger parking area with room for two school buses and an ADA-accessible crosswalk so all visitors can safely cross Mill Road from the parking area to The Sawmill’s entrance.
The expanded Sawmill land will also become home to a community garden space for students from nearby Jireh Swift Elementary School and neighborhood residents. The community gardens will be developed in partnership with the Marion Institute’s GROW Education project, which uses gardening to advance STEM curriculum and incorporate healthy living skills in the New Bedford Public Schools.
In addition, the project is preserving 1.5 acres of forested land next to the parking area, forever protecting these natural features in a densely developed part of the city. The Coalition will remove trash and invasive plants that currently litter this wooded area.
New Bedford voters adopted the Community Preservation Act in 2014 to create a dedicated fund for projects to protect open space, preserve historic resources, and expand community housing and outdoor recreational activities. The CPC administers the local Community Preservation fund, recommending projects to the City Council for funding approval. The Sawmill expansion project was the city’s only open space protection project in FY18.