Walking through Riverhead’s renovated Grangebel Park — though the temperature might be frigid this time of year — one can imagine the Montauk daisies, black-eyed Susans and weeping willow trees that will be in full bloom come spring.
A new stage, a rebuilt fish ramp for alewives, and new paths for walking and bicycling all hint at the activity that will surely ebb and flow once again through the scenic downtown park.
The three-acre park, closed late last year for renovations, will likely be open to the public by Christmas Day.
“I think it’s going to be the crown jewel of Riverhead,” said town engineer Ken Testa.
Electricians were hard at work Monday morning installing lamps that Mr. Testa said should be fully functional in about a week. He said only a few finishing touches, such as placing railings along a bridge and the fish passage, are needed before the town can take down the fence that has surrounded the park since it was closed.
Riverhead-based Terry Contracting, which rebuilt the fish passage, made bulkhead repairs as well as aesthetic improvements, finished the fish ramp and spillways last March. Mr. Testa said the entire project was originally expected to be completed by November, but heavy snowfall last winter stalled construction.
The site improvements cost about $1.37 million and the fish passage construction cost about $750,000. Community development director Christine Kempner said over $1 million in federal, state, county and town funding was allocated for the fish passage — including preliminary studies and analysis — and the work came in under budget.
Although exact figures were not available, Mr. Testa estimated that the entire park overhaul cost about $5 million, including renovations made in the 1990s to the western portion of the park, including bulkheading and creation of a pedestrian footbridge.
The paths in the park are gravel over mesh, which Mr. Testa said is more environmentally friendly than asphalt.
“Water can drain through a mesh walkway,” he explained.
Two small islands near the park have not been upgraded due to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, Mr. Testa said.
The park will be maintained by the town’s buildings and grounds department. Riverhead’s recreation department will oversee concerts and performances on the stage.
Parking will be available east of Peconic Avenue along the north side of the Peconic River, Mr. Testa said. The town will construct a crosswalk on Peconic Avenue — as mandated by Suffolk County because it is a county road — to connect the parking lot to the park for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District, said his organization had pledged $8,600 toward construction of the crosswalk.
“We hope it will bring more people downtown,” he said of the park. “It came out beautiful.”
He added that the BID will install holiday lights and other decorations in the park and other sections of the district.
Mr. Pickersgill said the BID will vote at its next meeting on whether or not to donate money every year to replant some of the vegetation that adorned the park in the early 1900s, adding that the board is in favor of doing so.
Grangebel Park was purchased about 120 years ago by wealthy Riverhead attorney Timothy Griffing and was named after his daughters, Grace, Angeline and Mabel.