Hartford’s Riverfront Parks Get Swamped

Apr 28, 2011

This time of year, as temperatures rise, so does the water in our rivers. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen recently visited the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford to see the effects of recent spring floods.

With the record snowfall this past winter one might expect record flooding. But so far the Connecticut River in Hartford has had only minor flooding. Minor or not, the water still leaves behind a mess.

Marc Nicol of Riverfront Recapture is picking his way through debris on a stretch of parkland that hugs the river.  

“This is a great example of what we’re left with after a flood. Most of it is natural material. It’s just  trees and branches and sticks and an occasional stump. Sometimes you’ll find a dead animal.”

Anything that floats, including Dunkin Donuts cups, a Mountain Dew bottle and a couple of old tires. And piled high on a pier are a mash of tree trunks and branches.

“Every spring we pick up this whole mess. The wood gets loaded into trucks or gets chipped up and hauled away.”

Riverfront Recapture operates a series of parks tucked between the river and Interstate 91. It’s a study in contrast: A green oasis along the shore, where eagles nest, lulled by a soft, but constant roar of traffic.

“The highway is basically just above and to the left of where we are standing. The river is to the right. I can see the Colt onion dome.”

“The Travelers tower, the Marriot hotel in downtown Harford. Actually if we walk up ahead here a little bit you get great view of downtown.”

These buildings and the highway, long ago replaced the natural floodplain which, just north and south of Hartford, still buffers the land from floods. But here, earthen levees and concrete flood walls protect the city. Nicol says they also constrict the river.

“It means that our floods come up faster and higher. So when we have a flood event it’s much more severe.”

Just down river a bit I wade across a drowned parking lot where, in drier weather, people come to launch their boats.

Further south Nicol drives his jeep along the graceful walkways of Riverside Park, coated with slick mud... until the swollen river stops us.

“It’s very slippery. We’re sliding. This is about as far as we go. Our walk way continues that way, but as you can see there are a couple of ducks swimming in our walkway today.”

Actually they’re Canada geese, who aren’t too happy to see us. They swim around a windrow of muddy silt, recently carried here by the river.

“Mother Nature she does that. She builds these wonderful berms along the riverbank. The trees cause the water to slow down and the sediment that’s carried gets deposited. This is one of our bigger clean up areas. We could have 50 or 60 yards of silt that will have to be excavated out of here.”

Workers have started to clean up parts of the park, but Nicol says their efforts may be wasted. The recent warm weather is melting the snow in northern New England and the river is rising again. The National Weather Service says it could reach flood stage in Hartford before the weekend.