Mill River Trail Green Infrastructure Park

Before (left) and after (right) the transformation of the dead-end roadway at Haven and Exchange Street in Fair Haven, CT.

Save the Sound and the City of New Haven teamed up to transform a vacant lot at the corner of Haven and Exchange streets into a new green infrastructure park for area residents. The installation of the park is now complete, and the next phase will connect the park to the Mill River Trail, offering a new outdoor space for Fair Haven residents. Reestablishing natural spaces like this one and reconnecting the city with local waterways will benefit a community that has endured environmental degradation and injustice for generations.

The project, encompassing nearly 12,000 square feet of closed roadway, involved the replacement impervious asphalt with specially-designed gardens and swales—what we term green stormwater infrastructure—to improve drainage around an area that includes the playfield of the John S. Martinez School. The park is also part of ongoing efforts by the Mill River Trail Advocates to expand the river-adjacent greenway through the neighborhood.

Initial project phases were made possible thanks to funding from the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the Sarah M. Ferguson Fund, The Claire Bennitt Watershed Fund, Dorr Foundation, and Partners for Places—a joint effort by the Funder’s Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities (TFN), the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and the New Alliance Foundation.

We’ve been thrilled to work closely with teachers from the John S. Martinez and Cold Spring Schools throughout this project. Thanks to their hard work and to the support of several funders, the students have been able to plant, weed, and explore the site through each step of its transformation. The park will act as a living classroom in future years by utilizing special curricula that their teachers have developed around this site.

Nicole Davis, Watershed Coordinator at Save the Sound

In 2019, Save the Sound worked with Lots of Fish, students and teachers from the John S. Martinez and Cold Spring Schools, and the Mill River Trail Advocates to design and install storm drain art on Wolcott Street—just across the playing fields from the green infrastructure park project site. These same students worked with Save the Sound staff to install trail markers along the current path of the trail from Grand Avenue south to Criscuolo Park. This trail creation and improvement work was funded by the Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) Outdoor Places Grant Program.

Visualizations created by Reed and Hildebrand show how, once completed to its full extent, the project will divert an estimated 2.3 million gallons of stormwater from the city’s combined sewer system every year, keeping pollutants and trash from flowing directly into the Mill River during significant rain events. The increased bioretention capacity brought about by the project will impact about 148,000 ­­­­square feet of surrounding streets and parking lots.

Construction started in 2022 by first removing the asphalt roadway and clearing the grounds for bioretention areas. During the active transformation between January and May, students from the John S. Martinez School came out to visit the site and explore its geology and history. Once a new walkway was installed, the park publicly opened as part of 2022’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, bringing over 50 visitors to the space to witness it’s change as well as interact with mural artist, Frenemy, as he finished the “Born to Explore” mural commissioned by Site Projects, a local public art organization.

In June and September, students, teachers and community members helped to plant over 300 native plants and remove invasive weeds. Larger trees and shrubs were installed in the fall, and together, these plants now act as sieves, filtering pollutants from stormwater that flows into the park and sinks into the Mill River watershed.

The park has hosted community events and connected people to the natural resources of the Mill River and Fair Haven residents identified this park as an example of how to improve green spaces in their neighborhood through the Urban Waters Initiative PhotoVoice project .

Now, we welcome you to explore our park and learn about how this green infrastructure will benefit the community and ecosystem of this neighborhood and Long Island Sound for years to come. Signage at the park describes the process of its transformation, educates visitors on the anatomy of bioretention areas, and invites future visions for the space.

Learn more about how this park connects to Fair Haven walking trails and take photos and videos with mural artist Frenemy’s Mochi, a character born to explore, through Site Projects’ augmented reality filter, created by Fatma Ozen (for mobile use only through the Instagram app).

The park is open for your use through the winter and will host community events all year round. Stay tuned for a spring celebration event to continue to engage our neighbors with their green and blue spaces in Fair Haven.


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