Courtesy of Save the Sound

Residents of Fair Haven may see a new green space pop up in their neighborhood soon thanks to a recent state grant meant to develop the Mill River Trail. 

On March 15, the city of New Haven and local nonprofit organization Save the Sound received a $50,000 grant from the Connecticut Urban Green and Community Garden Program, which is part of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The grant will fund the development of a dead-end street at the intersection of Haven Street and Exchange Street in the southern part of Fair Haven. Nicole Davis, the Mill River watershed coordinator for Save the Sound, explained that her organization will be working with the city to replace an unused stretch of waterfront pavement with a small park aimed to provide a neighborhood entrance to a section of the Mill River Trail.

“The idea is that while people from the neighborhood normally use the [Mill River Trail], it will also bring in people who don’t normally come to Fair Haven,” Davis told the News. “To get them to really start to embrace these neighborhoods and see what they have to offer as well.” 

The development is part of the local efforts to connect the several stretches of the Mill River Trail so that it runs completely from East Rock Park to Criscuolo Park on the waterfront. One of the main groups behind the project is the Mill River Trail Advocates, a volunteer-run organization working to revitalize the Mill River Trail. J.R. Logan, one of the group’s founders, said that the Mill River Trail is currently broken up by roadways and undeveloped stretches of land. The end goal of the project is to develop a connected trail that does not include roadways. 

“It’s just been building around the idea of trying to give people access to the river and to appreciate that and the water,” Logan told the News. 

The Mill River Trail Project is part of the Mill River Watershed-Based Plan whose goal is to improve the water quality of the nearby Mill River which has experienced sewage spills in the past. Davis explained that part of the problem with the Mill River water quality was the prevalence of impervious surfaces, such as hard pavements and sidewalks, that do not allow the rainwater to sink into the soil. Much of the New Haven part of the Mill River, she added, has impervious surfaces, leading stormwater containing debris and pollutants to flow directly into the river. To make matters worse, Davis said that New Haven’s combined sewer systems allow for raw sewage to directly flow into the river during times of heavy rainfall. 

“You can really see measurable impacts in the species and the diversity of plants and animals that are found in the river,” Davis said. 

Davis said the addition of the green space, especially rain gardens, to the Fair Haven section of the riverfront should work toward reducing the damaging impact of polluted stormwater runoff. The rain gardens’ plants would serve to capture as much of the stormwater as possible and filter out contaminants. 

Ron Walters, the president of Mill River Watershed Association of South Central Connecticut, said he hopes the development of the Mill River Trail, which would improve accessibility to the Mill River, will also foster interest among the community for protecting the Mill River. 

“The Watershed Plan is looking to improve the water quality and the environment within the watershed and around the river,” Walters told the News. “And the one good way of doing that is getting people out to see what the river is and to actually appreciate it more.”

Save the Sound will manage the construction of the green space. The organization hopes to begin construction in the spring or summer and complete it in three to six weeks, according to Davis. It is currently applying for state and city permits.  

The Mill River Watershed-Based Plan, led by Save the Sound, was created in 2018.

Sai Rayala | sai.rayala@yale.edu

SAI RAYALA
Sai Rayala writes about the climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a first-year in Timothy Dwight College planning to major in History.