University of Bridgeport Awarded Grants to Build Seaside GatewayTrail in Seaside Park

"Park Within a Park" to include walkway, outdoor classroom, environmental protection

BRIDGEPORT, CT (05/31/2023) University of Bridgeport (UB) is excited to move forward with construction of the Seaside Gateway Trail, a "park within a park," that will connect the greater Bridgeport community to the beautiful Seaside Park in the South End of Bridgeport. The project design includes an accessible walking trail along the area of Seaside Park that abuts UB's campus, as well as new native tree canopies, a meadow, and a proposed outdoor gateway classroom. The trail will connect the Perry Memorial Arch on Waldemere Avenue with two new entries located at Marina Park Circle and Howe Avenue near the Concession Pavilion.

The Seaside Gateway Trail project has been in the works for more than five years, with the University of Bridgeport joining the fundraising efforts in 2020 to help make the project a reality. UB students, faculty, and staff have been involved with many of the design and fundraising efforts, with Melanie Strout, UB's Director of Civic Engagement, leading the UB efforts.

"While UB started out as a stakeholder providing feedback during focus group meetings, it became clear that University of Bridgeport could play a larger role in the project's implementation," Strout explained. "This project has provided engagement opportunities for students, faculty, and staff that leverage a variety of skills and talents in our own backyard to improve the greater South End community. For example, UB's own Accounting Society provided valuable support with managing the grant finances, which enabled us to keep the project moving forward without delay."

Strout continued, "Now and in the future, this project will involve the UB community, the South End neighborhood, and many community partners. University of Bridgeport is honored to be a community partner in a project that means so much to so many groups of people."

In addition to connecting Seaside Park to the Bridgeport community, the collaborative effort aims to protect the park and the nearby South End neighborhood by planting resilient coastal landscaping, including native salt- and wind-tolerant trees and plants that will act as a natural defense against severe storm events. An underground drip irrigation system with a solar-powered backflow preventor will support the landscape during its initial establishment and any future droughts. The Seaside Gateway Trail will also serve to expand educational programming and environmental literacy while providing safe, accessible walking paths so people of all ages can enjoy the park and waterfront.

The Seaside Gateway Trail project has been made possible by the generosity of local and regional community and business partners who support the Seaside Gateway Trail mission of providing equitable access to nature to the Bridgeport community. In May 2022, the Fairfield Garden Club and Women's Seamen's Friend Society of CT purchased and planted 17 new storm-resistant, native trees with $15,000 and $10,000 grants, respectively. A team of volunteers, including a professor and students from UB, Bridgeport residents, and Aspetuck Land Trust volunteers, delivered water by hose to the trees during the severe drought in the spring and summer 2022.

In September 2022, the project was awarded a large grant of $100,000 from the Community Environmental Benefit Fund (CEBF) in a competitive year-long request for proposal process. University of Bridgeport served a key role in the CEBF award by acting as fiduciary, with two UB volunteers leading the team. This CEBF grant funded most of the Phase I "green infrastructure," which included installation of trails, an underground drip irrigation system, and two new concrete entries. An additional $10,000 grant from the Stephen J. and Madelyn M. Santa Environmental Fund, along with a third, $10,000 in-kind contribution of the stone matrix trail material donated by O&G Industries, Inc. in celebration of their 100th anniversary, helped bring Phase I to realization.

Land Canvas, a CT landscape architecture firm, was hired to complete construction drawings, and Becker Companies, LLC, a construction contractor, was brought on to build the pathways and install the irrigation system. The City of Bridgeport Parks Commission and City Engineer's Office approved the design for construction in March 2023 with completion expected at the end of April 2023.

"The new footpaths and tree canopy of the Seaside Gateway Trail create a welcoming doorway to Bridgeport's spectacular waterfront," says Beth Santa, Seaside Gateway Trail Team Leader. "The new pathway design feels like it was created 150 years ago and gives new purpose to the layout of the trees, young and old. It continues Frederick Law Olmsted's landscape design philosophy that embraced the healing power of nature that is created by plants, shade, fresh air, and vista. In honor of the 200th anniversary of Olmsted's birth, we and our contributors are thrilled to renew the original 1867 Olmsted plan's intent of accessibility to beauty and the outdoors for all the people of Bridgeport, The Park City."

Upon completion of major construction in April 2023, Phase II would see the final finishing elements of the Seaside Gateway Trail, including installation of bollards and benches for safety and comfort, and the installation of native grass and ground cover plantings to soften the landscape edges and prevent erosion. Completion of this phase will rely upon additional private funding and additional grants.

A future concept includes an outdoor "Gateway Classroom" and gathering space within the Seaside Gateway Trail. Considered part of Phase III, this landscape element would allow community members, residents, and students to gather and engage in both educational programming and cultural events, among other learning opportunities. The outdoor Gateway Classroom is designed for both formal and informal use by all members of the community and will also rely upon future funding.

Jim Casey, Chair of University of Bridgeport's Natural Sciences Department, is looking forward to growing his students' relationship with the natural environment by utilizing the Seaside Gateway Trail. "Witnessing the progress of The Seaside Gateway Trail has been very exciting for the faculty and students here at UB. In addition to bolstering plant and pollinator biodiversity and further beautifying the already wonderful Seaside Park, the area will provide an outdoor classroom where students might meet for field-based science lectures and labs. The trail will foster a sense of place and encourage students to get outdoors and take pride in our beautiful setting here."

Another important goal of the Seaside Gateway Trail is to provide equitable access to nature.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the need for outdoor spaces to support mental and emotional well-being, and physical health," Strout said. "The addition of these accessible pedestrian walking paths in the park will enhance the natural beauty that the public already enjoys."

The Seaside Gateway Trail will be a welcome addition to many in the South End of Bridgeport, bringing together an already-thriving community with more accessible links to education, the arts, nature, and well-being.

Danielle Wilken, President of University of Bridgeport, expressed a particular interest in seeing this project succeed, saying, "Seaside Park is a special place for UB students and faculty - it's our campus 'backyard.'" She continued, "The Gateway Trail project is close to my heart both because of its physical location, and as a demonstration of UB's ongoing commitment to engaging the community as a partner and steward. UB is always looking for ways to strengthen our amazing Bridgeport community; the benefits the Gateway Trail will provide to the community aesthetically, environmentally, educationally, and for the general public, makes it an invaluable addition to Seaside Park."

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