Southport Park: Celebrating a new park 'by & for the community'
The newly created Southport Park was a hit with kids and parents alike as its official opening was celebrated Saturday.
More than 100 people turned out for the ceremony marking the opening of the 9-acre park on Old Post Road next to the Southport Racquet Club, and the festivities included a scavenger hunt, face painting, a magician and an ice cream truck.
"I love it. I think it's something that Southport really, really needed," said Jay Charlton, a resident of Fairfield's Southport neighborhood. "You've got a little something for everybody, not just kids. It's very well planned."
Charlton said she planned to bring her four grandchildren to the park and that it would provide a nice break as she walks around the neighborhood for exercise.
Joan Fish of Fairfield, who was at the park with her son, Bradley, 2, called the park wonderful. "With a 2-year-old, it's always good to find something to explore," she said.
Andrea Smith of Fairfield, who was with her daughter, Penny, 3, said she liked that nearly all of the park is shaded by trees. "It's nice to have a park in the shade. There's not a lot of them," she said. "There's only one other park in Fairfield that's in the shade and it's on the other side of town so it's nice to be able to play in the shade when it's hot outside."
Smith said she also liked the playground, nearly all of which is made from wood or stone, and the trails in the park that have steps and bridges made of wood and stone. "It's great to have trails on this side of town," she said.
Elisa Vittroi, 8, who was at the park with her mother, Maria, said she most liked the trails and an above-ground wooden fort, and Quinn Pavoz, 10, said he liked how the trails had steps and arrows to indicate which way to go. "It's organized," he said.
George Wyckoff, 10, liked the above-ground fort and a small metal slide set into a hill. George said he could bring his bike to the park, while Lily Becker, 8, said she could bring her two dogs.
Kyle Stevenson, 11, said he liked the overall tranquility of the park. "It's a nice place to hang out. If you like coming out here and watching nature and stuff, it'd be pretty nice for you," he said.
Southport Park also includes a stage with stone benches, a picnic table, a nature stand with information about birds and trees in the park and a "railroad overlook" where people can see Metro-North Railroad and Amtrak trains go by. The railroad overlook includes a wooden stand with train schedules and information about the history of trains.
Kate Alianiello, 10, said she liked the wooden benches the most. "They are just very pretty and they go with the whole park. Instead of a metal bench, it's a really cool wood bench," she said.
Nina Massucci, 10, Kate's friend, agreed. "The benches kind of fit in with the forest," she said.
The park is owned by the Sasquanaug Association, a neighborhood group in Southport, and the Friends of Southport Park, a non-profit set up by Sasquanaug to receive donations, raised about $370,000 to create the park, said Frank Festini, a member of Sasquanaug's board of directors.
Festini said the Sasquanaug Association donated $150,000; the Southport Conservancy, another neighborhood group, donated $50,000, the Southport Area Association, also a neighborhood group, donated $20,000, and the remaining $150,000 came from individual donations from neighborhood residents and members of Sasquanaug. "This is by the community, for the community," Festini said. "We didn't want to tax the people and have the town of Fairfield help us."
Festini said the idea for creating the park came about three years ago and that construction took about nine months. He said volunteers spent "hundreds of not thousands of man hours" in clearing brush from the park, deciding what would be in it and then making it a reality. The committee that oversaw the park's creation included Festini, Dan Zelson, Stephen Stout, Ellen Levinson, Don Burton, Alloe Stokes, Ralph Hodgson and George Russell.
Festini said Sasquanaug wanted the park to be as natural as possible and that the only element that wasn't natural was the metal slide "because a wood slide would kind of hurt a little." He said a lot of wood used for the above-ground fort and picnic table came from trees on the property that had fallen during Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy.
Jay Petrow, the landscape designer for the park, said about 2,000 plants and 100 trees were added to the park. The plants and grasses will produce berries and seeds for birds to eat, and the shrubs will provide a hiding area for small mammals, he said. The trees, which include native dogwoods and eastern white pines, were chosen based on aesthetics and their ability to provide habitat and screening, he said.
"The trails were here but they were rough so we graded them flat. We also built stone stairs," Petrow said. Stones on the sides of trails came from the park while flat stones used for steps came from a quarry, Petrow said.
Festini said the Sasquanaug Association wants to add more trees and shrubs to screen the top of the park, and also is considering how to incorporate a two-acre section of woods that is across the Post Road.
Southport Park is open from dawn to dusk. For information, check the website www.southportpark.org