Founder's Walk project could create 'gateway' to downtown Milford

Creation of a Founder’s Walk next to Milford Harbor should be about more than turning an abandoned road into a historic landmark. It should create an attractive gateway to Milford’s downtown too, according to a landscape architect working on the plan.

William Richter of Richter and Cegan Landscape Architects and Urban Designers discussed ideas for a Founder’s Walk last week during an information session at Milford City Hall.

Milford’s 375th Anniversary Committee came up with the idea of creating a Founder’s Walk, which will connect the Memorial Bridge near SBC Restaurant to the Hotchkiss Bridge, the black bridge hung with flower baskets that spans the harbor.

A preliminary plan calls for replacing the abandoned road alongside Milford Harbor with a landscaped walkway that will include history kiosks, tables, a veterans memorial wall, landscaping and related environmental improvements.

The state has given Milford $300,000 toward the project, though there are no cost projections yet.

Richter showed residents slides of waterfront projects done in other communities, including Seaside Park in Bridgeport and walks in Glastonbury and Hartford. Some of the slides showed sculptures and other artwork and landscaping highlighting pedestrian walkways.

Richter said the idea in Milford will be to bring people closer to the water to enjoy the views. Invasive plants will be removed to offer a better view of the harbor area, and some kind of protective fence will be constructed for safety.

“This is about how close we can get to the edge — we want to get people as close to the water as possible, safely,” Richter said.

The abandoned roadway is steep, and Richter said creative ways to address the 10-foot grade change will have to be explored, such as steps or a landing area half way down the slope. There also has to be a handicap ramp.

“We have to handle getting from here to here,” Richter said, holding one hand low and the other high as he spoke to people at City Hall.

The city green across from the library should be tied into the walkway plan so there is an attractive gateway to the downtown area for people driving on New Haven Avenue.

Richter called the area a “public landing” and said it should incorporate the front of the Milford Library, the green area across the street, and the start of the Founder’s Walk.

“This is a whole gateway space into downtown,” Richter said.

Also, he said there should be a more attractive landing where the Hotchkiss bridge ramp brings pedestrians to Fowler Field.

“It should be a nice landing that points you in a direction,” he said. “It needs to be a little more special.”

“This can be a really exciting public space,” Richter added, noting that the project will include lighting, utilities and drainage.

He presented a project timeline that calls for concepts, designs, and then construction perhaps as early as late next spring. Richter noted that construction plans would take into account events, such as the Annual Milford Oyster Festival, so as not to disrupt those events.

State Rep. James Maroney, who actually came up with the idea for a Founder’s Walk, said the spot where the Hotchkiss Bridge meets the abandoned road is where the founders of Milford landed. So he thinks it’s a great idea to make the spot a bit more attractive.

Milford resident Kathy Donovan attended the presentation at City Hall and said she thinks some of the concepts discussed will give the area more  unity.

“I think this has a lot of potential,” Donovan said, adding that perhaps the downtown Milford farmers market could eventually be held in the walkway area.