Business owner proposes North East riverfront walkway
— A North East business owner has proposed creating a series of riverfront walkways that will connect North East Community Park to the Main Street business district.
Hud Benson, owner of the Port House Grill, came before the North East Planning Commission on Tuesday night to present his proposal and ask the commission to consider including it in the town’s comprehensive plan.
In an interview on Thursday, Benson said that the series of walkways would encourage more people to get outdoors, make the town more attractive to visitors and do a better job of linking the downtown area with the Northeast River.
“North East is a town near the water, but it’s not really a waterfront town,” he said. “The river is kind of inaccessible, except through the park.”
Benson’s plan links North East Community Park, which is south of the business district, with Herring Snatchers Park, located at the north end of the downtown. At the planning commission meeting, he presented a map with a series of five potential color-coded trails that would run along the river.
A potential red walkway would run from North East Community Park and up Third Street to Beech Street, where it would hook up with an undeveloped extension of Second Street to meet West Church Point Road. This trail could be made using a certain type of brick so people could easily follow it from the park up to South Main Street, Benson said.
Alternatively, a proposed gold walkway would run from the park along the river up to West Church Point Road, he said.
A second proposed red walkway would run from the parking lot of Crouch’s Funeral Home down to the river, he added.
The longest proposed walkway would be the green walkway, which would be a promenade of sorts that would run from West Church Point Road along the side of the river closest to the downtown, and eventually all the way up to Herring Snatchers Park. Benson also suggested a magenta walkway that would involve bridges that span the river, with the main pathway across the river, on the area adjacent to North East Isles, he said.
Benson stressed that all these potential walkways are just to generate ideas for a concept he calls “Waterfront North East,” and that he hopes to hear other ideas about walkway locations and work through any potential problems.
Many people who own property along the water where Benson is proposing the walkways be installed spoke against the proposal at the planning commission meeting and Benson said he always expected opposition and can understand the concerns.
But others also came to the meeting and expressed support for the general concept of linking the downtown closer with the waterfront, he said.
He noted that many people who come into his restaurant have no idea that it’s located so close to the water. Similarly, many people go to North East Community Park for events but never make it from there to the downtown, he said, adding that going along Walnut Street onto South Main Street isn’t a pleasant walk.
Going forward, Benson said he would like to see the waterfront walkway concept added to the town’s comprehensive plan because this would allow the town to seek out grants to pay for the walkway system. He recently met with Sandra Edwards, Chesapeake City town manager, to talk about the trail system her town installed along the C&D Canal.
Most of that trail system, Benson said, was supported by grants that Chesapeake City received through the Sustainable Communities designation, a designation North East recently received. But North East would only be eligible for those grants if the town included the waterfront walkway idea in its comprehensive plan, Benson noted.
He hopes that his proposal will continue to generate dialogue in the coming months and he noted that the walkway will be discussed again at the August planning commission meeting.
“At the end of the day, North East is a hidden gem and it’s going to stay hidden and never become a shiny piece of gold unless people make plans,” Benson said.
Commissioner Eric Braley, who serves on the planning commission as the town board’s liaison, said during the town meeting on Wednesday night that the plan generated a lot of good conversation among local business and property owners that he hopes will continue.
“The whole meeting went very well and it will be on our planning board’s agenda for a while as we work through this and see if there’s any feasibility to this,” he said. “It would be a lot to have to work through, but we’re willing to look at it.”