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A once-and-future Turners Falls

New Livability Plan a collaborative work of planner, leaders, residents

Recorder/Paul Franz
Walter Ramsey on Ave A.

Recorder/Paul Franz Walter Ramsey on Ave A.

TURNERS FALLS — For the first time, according to planners, Turners Falls has a master plan created by the community rather than a lone industrialist.

The Downtown Turners Falls Livability Plan is now final, endorsed Monday night by the Board of Selectmen. said.

The last time Montague’s most populous village had a master plan it was 1868, according to Town Planner Walter Ramsey. At that time, three years after the end of the Civil War, Alvah Crocker of Fitchburg had the reins, laying out the grid for a sort of live-in industrial park powered by the river, giving rise to today’s tidy Turners Falls village on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Ramsey said over 100 people participated in the various events in the planning process over the winter, and the new plan will serve as a 10-year vision for the village, although it has no teeth and the town is not obligated to pursue any of the possible changes outlined.

“It’s a vision plan, it’s going to guide policy and development over the next few years,” Ramsey said. “It’s about making Turners Falls a better place for the people that live here and the businesses here.”

Possibilities, some with project leaders and possible funding sources identified, include moving or expanding the public library, constructing a new senior center, a park on the island home to the former Strathmore Paper Mill, on the land formerly occupied by the Indeck power plant, as well as re-filling empty or converted storefronts and restoring or remodeling facades.

The plan identifies “formalizing recreational access to the river from downtown” among the priorities raised in working groups and the public workshop, with the plan calling for further study and work with FirstLight Power Resources, the entity controlling the dam and much of the nearby land, to create a boat launch east of Unity Park near the old bridge abutments.

“Adding a boat launch on the Turners Fall side of the river would enable residents to get on the water without needing to travel to Gill,” reads the plan. “It would also bring paddlers and fishermen into downtown to eat and shop after their time on the river.”

Other recommendations include improving access points, including clarifying directions of travel for bicyclists, pedestrians and cars at the intersection of Fifth Street, Canal Street and the bike path at the end of the bridges from Turners Falls Road in Greenfield across the canal and river.

The plan also paints the remaining coal silo and few standing walls remaining in the area of the Indeck plant as a potential day-time park and nighttime outdoor music and theater venue.

Other goals include expanding the farmers market, and creating a food vendor court as a small business incubator, to couple with the existing farmers market, moved to the weekend, and a suggested flea market.

A special effort was made to reach out to the traditionally under-represented teen and Hispanic populations, Ramsey said.

The teen focus groups identified the long-discussed new skate park, bike path extensions to surrounding communities, a YMCA-type gym and pool facility and a teen center as needs, with multiple suggestions for re-use of the old mill properties.

The plan lists mobility challenges for those without cars, more public gathering spaces and activities for children and housing upgrades as concerns of the Hispanic population, and the value of community spaces like parks, libraries, the Brick House Community Resource Center and Montague Catholic Social Ministries as valuable assets.

Proposed downtown improvements include sidewalk bump-outs at crosswalks to give pedestrians a view around parked cars and less street to cross and the re-establishment of a facade revitalization program.

The plan was developed by landscape architecture and planning firm Dodson and Flinker of Ashfield, hired with a $40,000 grant from the Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Regional Planning Grant, and overseen by an advisory committee of eight town employees, elected officials, business owners and residents.

The project was Ramsey’s brainchild, with the catalyst of available grant money.

Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio said the vision will help to leverage federal grant money. Ramsey said it can also serve to draw private investment.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

When I was a kid, Turners residents had plenty of access to the Connecticut River. The whole shore from about 50 feet or so above the dam to well beyond the Thomas Ice Houses and up to an area known as the First Birches where the river takes its first bend, was jam - packed full of wharfs and piers. Boats galore were stored there. Nearly all in those days were Row Boats , since outboard motors were still a novelty, and at max only about 3 horsepower. Perhaps partly due to the depression only a very few were in evidence. A large Boathouse near the old suspension bridge to Gill was owned By a Mr. Reynolds, who was a teller at the bank and he rented out canoes for 50 cents an hour ( or $2.00 for the day ). It would be nice to see this area reactivated for the same purpose as it was in those earlier times.

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