Grant will do more than just rebuild Beaverbrook boardwalk

Milford’s Open Space Manager Steve Johnson said $500,000 that the state recently granted to rebuild a boardwalk in Milford will do more than just rebuild a boardwalk.

The boardwalk that runs through the Beaverbrook nature preserve was largely destroyed by fire two years ago.

Johnson applied for a Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant, and recently got word it had been approved.

He said the money will rebuild the walkway, improve the environment at Beaverbrook, and bring the community together to help in the project.

“This is an opportunity to reach out to Platt students,” for example,” said Johnson, whose year as open space manager has involved bringing people together for community projects.

“This is a chance to not just rebuild but to redesign the boardwalk and trail to provide a more unique experience,” he said.

Kingdom Life Christian Church owns the  property at 553 West Avenue where the park exists. However, 41 acres of the 56-acre parcel is protected because it is marshland.

Grillo Services plans to buy the property for that 15 acres of usable area, but Johnson said the sale has not been finalized yet.

Regardless, the city retains responsibility for maintaining the park within. The marshy area is home to frogs, birds and other wildlife.

When fire destroyed the 1.5-mile walkway in 2012, the boardwalk was not insured and has sat broken and marred since. The small park has remained closed to walkers.

Johnson said the boardwalk will not be rebuilt overnight: He is planning an environmentally friendly process that sees construction taking place when it makes sense environmentally to do it.

He envisions the same footprint for the boardwalk that existed before, but with more secure footings to meet more stringent building codes than when the walkway was built in 1995.

Also, the $500,000 will help pay for land management, like control of the phragmites in the marsh to help the area revert to a more natural state, as well as control of other invasive vegetation.

Johnson picked up a piece of twisted vine-like wood from a counter in his office and said, “This is Oriental bittersweet. If you leave it to continue to grow it chokes off the trees — it gets to be 75 feet high.”

The boardwalk restoration project also will include a parking lot with handicap access to the trail.

Johnson applied for the grant in the fall, and “was thrilled” when he learned the city would get the money. He estimates it may not be enough for the entire project, but may have to be supplemented by fund-raising efforts.

“It’s a great opportunity for the city,” Johnson said.

Milford State Sen. Gayle Slossberg hailed the decision to grant the project.

“It was a terrible loss for the community when a brush fire severely damaged the boardwalk at Beaverbrook Park nearly two years ago,” Slossberg said. “With the state's support, we'll now be able to return the boardwalk to its former beauty. This is wonderful news for Milford residents.”

Johnson said it was Mayor Ben Blake that initiated the process that made the city eligible for STEAP grants.

“The STEAP funding will help restore an important city asset destroyed by fire so that residents and visitors can, once again, enjoy the beautiful hiking trails and boardwalk of the Beaverbrook preserve,” Blake said.