As soon as contaminated, Higganum Cove now heart of Haddam’s recreation revitalization plan

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HADDAM — The city will receive $760,000 in government bonds to fund an outdoor recreation area at the old elementary school and park development at Higganum Cove.

The funding includes $480,000 to build an intergenerational outdoor recreation center at the former Haddam Elementary School on Saybrook Road, including a pickleball court and playground, and roof replacement. It is the future site of a community center.

Both projects will be located at the Higganum Center.

A total of $280,000 was allocated for the construction of Higganum Cove Park. The Cove area, set on approximately 44 acres of land, has “secret” swimming holes, cross-country skiing areas, mill ruins dating back to the 1670’s and much more.

According to the city’s website, the contamination on the property was removed by the US Environmental Protection Agency in a multimillion-dollar cleanup in 2014. This included the removal of 8,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris, including efforts to revitalize the swamp for animal life.

According to Peter Baird, a member of the group, the Higganum Cove Park Advisory Committee has been brainstorming ideas, including ways to improve access.

“It will be a gradual process,” he explained of the 10-year project.

The plans, estimated to cost $1 million, include nature trails, perennials and native floral plants, a stage for small acoustic concerts, a picnic pavilion and viewing platforms for the waterfall, and large glacial potholes formed from rocks that twist in the current said Baird .

“It’s really a beautiful area,” he added.

The city has already invested about $100,000 in the project and is seeking a small grant from the Middletown-based Rockfall Foundation, he added.

“This would allow us to get a solid start on our priorities,” Baird said, including flower beds, pathways and more cleanup. Wildlife there includes endangered fish and rare birds, he added.

The bathing area, including a sandy beach by the waterfall, is popular with residents, Baird said.

A range of manufacturing businesses existed on the site, from grist or grain mills to clothing manufacturers. “These used hydropower until electricity came,” Baird said.

The last company there was a duplicating paper factory, but it burned down in 1989.

There will be a modest parking lot in the park and more along nearby Depot Road, a quarter mile away.

If realized, it is expected that the community center, cove and old Scoville estate across from the green where a former 1860’s mill was located will be a major attraction. The city bought the latter land, which was formerly used by the state Department of Transportation to store trucks and equipment, Baird explained.

Haddam received a $2 million grant to redevelop this property. A developer has promised to spend $1 million to remodel the area, he added.

The three plots would form a triangle, Baird said: “It’s going to be really nice when it all comes together.”

The project has received a lot of public support.

“There’s a lot of energy in it,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many people on the bay in the last year or so. It seems a bit pandemic related. There are more people hiking and swimming there than I have ever seen in over 20 years.

“Not only will it serve the residents of Higganum, but hopefully bring some visitors to the city,” Baird said.