At noon on Saturday, Sept. 17, the lyrics from Big Yellow Taxi, “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot,” echoed through .
“Someone requested this as the theme song for the Save Riverside Park group,” organizer Lorain Simister said.
Friends of Riverside, along with the preservation group , joined forces to hold this first annual event. Organizers opposed to the proposed $2.9 million sale of a portion of Riverside Park to the have been holding events to show how the park can be utilized.
Simister began in early July to organize the event with vendors from artists, musicians and food.
“I don’t think the park should be destroyed, New London doesn’t have enough open space. Every space I see has a For Sale sign,” she said.
According to Ronna Stuller who helped Simister organize the event, Riverside Park was thought to be a living lab for students from the , which planned for a magnet curriculum focusing on science and environmental topics.
“People say the park isn’t utilized,” Stuller said. “We have to make it more accessible, not impossible to utilize it.”
The executive director of New London Landmarks, Sandra Chalk, said although she cares about the historical heritage of the city, it doesn’t mean she wants it to stay where it is.
“Redevelopment of the Parade area really transformed downtown, from the Farmers Market to entertainment,” she said.
According to Chalk, the city of New London has forgotten and ignored Riverside Park.
“The park will prosper if we keep the park back to mainstream of New London life. It’s not an expensive effort, just maintained the way it is,” she said.
New London Landmarks also led a walking tour through the park and surrounding area.
“So many people don’t know the neighborhood. I just want people to see it,” Chalk said. “You read about negative indications of Crystal Avenue. There’s probably less crime in this neighborhood. No neighborhood is crime ridden. People need to see it. I wasn’t sure at first.”
Another way Chalk and members of the organization are spreading awareness for Riverside are through oyster shells.
“The oyster shell campaign concept is that the park is like an oyster shell,” Chalk continued. “The Coast Guard is taking the center, the pearl, and leaving us with the hard edges. What do you do with hard edges?”
Chalk said perhaps the Coast Guard and the city could negotiate.
“It should be kept as park, open space is important to an urban community,” she said. “Let’s get a lot of money, or divide it in half. The city will have to maintain the Coast Guard security zone. We want to keep it.”
Not everyone in attendance at Riverside was against the Coast Guard Academy taking some of the land.
Ed Demuzzio, retired from the Academy after 20 years of service, handed out pamphlets to people to explain what the Coast Guard does.
“It’s not about bad-mouthing cadets because of the issue,” he said. “They have been a member of the community for 101 years.”
Although Demuzzio is not a New London resident, he remains active in the community.
“I own and other property. When [the Coast Guard] first asked for 18 acres, I tried to lower the number to nine acres,” he said. “I thought that would be enough to reach a compromise. It’s hard because half the people here are friends of mine.”
According to Demuzzio, the Coast Guard is planning to build a national shipyard simulator, and it’ a huge building.
“The one they have now is 25 years old. A bigger one is needed now because of terrorism and they don’t have room on the grounds,” he said. “It’s an issue.”
Demuzzio said, in his opinion, if the residents of New London vote against the sale of Riverside, the Coast Guard will look at other options.
“They have to do something,” he said.
Adam Campos, an art vendor, said he loved the opportunity to display his art at the festival.
“I think Riverside is important and I wanted to be a part of the movement,” he said.
Onlookers at the festival may have noticed Bob Stuller, a staff member during the festival, wrap yellow caution tape throughout the park.
The tape was used to show attendees the area the Coast Guard would own. Anything outside of the yellow tape would belong to the city.
One attendee, Nora Curioso, though no longer a New London resident, worked with the homeless of New London. Curioso said she came to support the event and guitarist Hugh Birdsall, who wrote an original song for the event titled Riverside Stomp, as well as friend Simister.
According to Curioso, having the Coast Guard Academy as neighbors is wonderful. “But if they were to purchase [Riverside Park] it would be locked to the people,” she said.
Concurrently, the Coast Guard Academy welcomed the public onto their campus for tours on Saturday during the festival.
“I’m glad they’re allowing the public in,” Simister said. “We’re here in America for that reason.”
The vote for the future of Riverside Park will take place on Nov. 8.
Editor's Note: Adam Campos is a regular contributor to the New London Patch.