Warren Select Board is considering whether to continue maintaining Riverside Park as a park or whether to let it return to an overgrown field that the Mad River can flood when it needs to let off a little steam.
To call the area a park might be overly ambitious. It is a field with parking at the northwestern end and a split rail fence delineating the parking area. But that's what makes it work as a place for the river to spread into – there's nothing much there to be destroyed and there's nothing there to be washed downstream.
Riverside Park was created after the flood of 1998 when a residence on that property was destroyed and washed downstream. Since that time the park has been popular and well-used and used to have a large grassy field where people could picnic, throw Frisbees and bring their dogs.
The park was badly damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 with the grass washed away and replaced by large rocks and downed trees. Irene also left the banks of the Mad River – and many other areas of town – littered with Japanese knotweed. That knotweed has now blocked access to parts of the river at the park.
On July 3, 2013, another flood left trees and debris in the park, some of which is still there. The knotweed is still there. The open field still has a lot of rocks and running for a Frisbee in bare feet is inadvisable. The town recently began cutting the grass, which was hip-high before it was cut.
There is a clear and sound reason that that parcel of land should never be redeveloped. It gives the river someplace to go in a flood. That is critically important. Now with the FEMA buyout of another parcel to the south, just a short distance down Route 100, the river has another place to go during a flood.
We should not be building and rebuilding parcels that are prone to flooding, but couldn't we continue to share Riverside Park with the river? Securing public access to our recreational waters is also critically important. And let's face it; dogs are as ubiquitous to Vermont as Subarus are. Having a dog-friendly swim hole is an important asset for our residents and our visitors.
Maintaining the parcel as a public park or returning the area to a park after every flood is going to cost the town of Warren some money. Perhaps memberships to The Valley's only dog park could be sold. Perhaps Friends of the Mad River could help the town figure out a configuration for the park that maximizes the ability for the river to spread out there as needed. Surely a community that figured out how to buy Warren Falls can figure out a way to let the river do what it needs to do, without losing an important public (and canine) access to the river.