Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tobin Riverfront Park


John J. Tobin Riverfront Park encompasses greenspace on either side of the footbridge over the Assabet River, located at the east end of the parking lot behind the Post Office. Maynard's smallest park, so small it is not even listed on the town's website map of open spaces and trails, turns 23 years old this month.

Dedication marker
According to an article in the October 5, 1989 issue of the Beacon, in the microfilm collection of the Maynard Public Library, the park was dedicated in late September 1989. Close to 60 Tobin family members, friends and local dignitaries attended. The park project cost $142,036 and was partially funded by the Executive Office of Communities and Development Small Cities Program, and the Department of Environmental Management. 

Prior to the park's construction the area had been a brownfield eyesore. Long after the trains had stopped running the deteriorating trestle bridge and bordering land were overgrown, neglected, and had become a hang-out for town drunks, derelicts and homeless. Men slept in corrugated cardboard shanties.

Tobin had been a long-time resident of Maynard. He was a Board of Public Works member for over 30 years, and also active at times on the town's Finance Committee, School Building Committee and the Board of Appeals. Tobin was instrumental in starting the Boys & Girls Club of Assabet Valley. He was so active in town that many people referred to him as "Mr. Maynard." His death in 1986 was a catalyst for the town's government to choose some means of remembering his contributions.

In addition to Tobin's involvement in town government, he and his family ran the very successful Tobin Vending Service, which among other clients, had a contract for vending machines for Digital Equipment Corporation.

This pocket-sized park sports a wood-decked footbridge across the Assabet River, two picnic tables - perfect for a weekday outdoor lunch - and ten benches. Some of the original landscape plantings still grace
Low water under the footbridge, August 2010
the park, but around the edges wildness had set in over the years.

By 2005 the upstart growth was so thick that it was barely possible to glimpse the river. Maple saplings, poison ivy, Oriental bittersweet vines and Japanese knotweed were rampant. Finally, volunteers stepped in to clear saplings and undergrowth, and the town's Department of Public Works effected some repairs.

As a result, this is one of the few places in town it is possible to walk right down to the riverbank. Barefoot wading is not recommended, however, as while literally hundreds of pounds of broken glass, pottery shards and rusting metal have been removed, much remains.

The river brings many moods to the park. The flood of March 2010 brought water to within a foot of the underside of the footbridge, and a flow rate of 2,500 cubic feet per second. This summer's low trickled by at 20 cfs - not enough to float a boat. Winter adds ice stalactites to the river's borders whenever the water level is slowly falling while temperatures stay below freezing.

Adult Canada goose

Wildlife sightings include many birds, a few species of fish, frogs and crayfish. During summer's low water a lone Great Blue Heron often stalks the river in search of breakfast. Rarer sightings have included snapping turtles, raccoons, skunks and the occasional garter snake. Flocks of geese step out of the river to nibble on the grass. It's a nature oasis in the center of town.


In the future the park will undergo another transformation, as the plans for the Assabet River Rail Trail call for a new bridge and a wider path. The soonest this might happen is 2016. For now, let's all give thanks to the memory of John J. Tobin, and the tiny gem of a downtown park named in his honor.

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