Neponset Park dock revamp plan stirs resident fuss

Milton High’s crew team eyes use, raises $18k

The current canoe launch at Neponset park. 	Reporter file photoThe current canoe launch at Neponset park. Reporter file photo

Department of Conservation and Recreation officials may be heading back to the drawing board on improvements to a Neponset dock after facing frustrated residents who said they felt neglected and distrustful of an agency that hasn’t always delivered on park improvements.

On Tuesday night, DCR officials unveiled a plan aimed at enhancing access of kayaks and canoes to the Neponset River that flows by the eponymous park, which is located at the corner of Granite Avenue and Hilltop Street and was opened in 2008.

The agency is partnering with Friends of Milton Crew, a nonprofit rowing program for Milton High School students, to revamp the current wooden dock. The existing structure, officials say, is under-utilized and can’t be used in low tide because it doesn’t extend beyond the mud flats and the water’s edge.

The non-profit took in $18,000 in a single fundraiser, and DCR, through a matching program, agreed to provide $36,000 to build a new seasonal structure extending the dock. Other planned improvements include repairs to the plumbing near the park’s spray deck and the installation of a spigot to help with the washing of boats.

DCR originally planned for the new structure to be finished and open for business by early June, but after hearing from miffed residents who, in asking for better communication, barraged agency officials with questions. An August opening is now more likely.

“You’re going to build that dock for the Milton crew,” Pat Pembroke said to officials at a meeting on the project at St. Brendan’s Church. “Maybe we should’ve enhanced it for the residents first.”

Samantha Overton, acting director of urban parks and recreation, said the dock will be open to everyone, and available if Dorchester residents want to create their own rowing program. “Now you’ll have the infrastructure to put that in place. This is the beginning of the conversation,” she said, adding that there would be another public meeting held on the project.

According to DCR, the Milton rowing crew, with a pair of 8-man boats used by 18 high school athletes, would use the dock in late summer, fall, and spring, Mondays through Fridays, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Officials stressed that the dock would remain open to the public and that the agency would maintain the structure and the grounds.

Sean Weir, head of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, asked why the Milton crew felt the need to “come over here” and pointed out that Dorchester has long been waiting for a number of DCR projects to be completed once funds become available.

When Neponset Park was first planned, residents wanted a dock, but DCR put in a sprinkler park instead, Weir said. “We always get left out,” he said.

Others pointed to still unannounced plans on how to extend a path along the Neponset River from Milton’s Central Avenue to Mattapan Square this week. The proposed one-mile extension, which could cost between $3 million and $5 million, would connect Pope John Paul II Park, a 72-acre area between the expressway and the Neponset River marshes, to Hyde Park.

“That’s not dead,” Overton said, adding that discussions were happening behind the scenes, and the agency was working with the MBTA to “make that happen,” since the extension could involve the taking of MBTA property.

She said an announcement could come this summer.

The Tuesday night meeting at St. Brendan’s Church drew a number of candidates running to replace District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney, including former Cedar Grove Civic Association chief John O’Toole, local realtor Craig Galvin and local political activist Doug Hurley. Weir is also weighing a run.