The city’s new HarborWalk, hauling Gloucester tourism boldly into the digital, mixed-media modern age, past 42 granite “story moments” conveying perspectives on the nation’s oldest fishing port, is set to be dedicated and open officially on Thursday.
But as entree to the walk and the “stopping stations” is free, the information and technology are in place so that a smartphone and the free app (information available in the brochure for the walk) allows the visitor to click the QR code at Stopping Station No. 2, for example, and bring up poetic summer resident T.S. Eliot’s recorded voice reading an excerpt from the “Four Quartets” from 1941.
As if to signal the complexity of the project and the city it compartmentalizes into chapters or volumes — linking the Greasy Pole; Salt, the prolific, mother humpback whale of Stellwagen Bank; Virginia Lee Burton, the author of the Gloucester inspired children’s classic, “Katy and the Big Snow;” Joan of Arc and the masters of paint, invention and perseverance; and the city’s epic hero fisherman, adventurer and bartender, Howard Blackburn — Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who has walked the walk for the walk in the face of much municipal disagreement about its priority and value, has scheduled four consecutive days of dedications.
“This isn’t a power walk, you have to immerse yourself and linger,” said Kirk. “You can’t drive by this, you could spend a week easily.”
Taking it all in at once is about as feasible as reading an encyclopedia from A to Z. It’s a bad idea to even try, Kirk advised Monday.
She said the germ of the idea for the HarborWalk was firmly planted in 2008 in her first months in office when Kirk organized a series of listening sessions to tease out the public will for the future of the working waterfront.
“We want access without interfering” was the message Kirk said she heard.
Of course, the additional goal of the HarborWalk is to streamline Gloucester’s appeal to visitors who, like the locals, can now take their soundings of the mysteries of a city that was born to fish and, while slowed by forces of nature and politics, has never stopped, leaving much to look back upon.
The first funding for the project, $250,000, arrived from the office of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Seaport Advisory Council in 2010. Additional grants gave the city $1.2 million for the walk, which was assigned after competitive bidding to the Cambridge Seven. Kirk said the there remains about $250,000 for miscellaneous needs.
The walk was initially slated for a June opening, yet no one has complained loudly about the delay, and businesses are already reporting an increase in walking traffic, including along the Main Street section of the walk, which carries from the crossing of Duncan and Pleasant streets westward.
The official-ribbon cutting program themed as an orientation, begins Thursday at 1 p.m. at St. Peter’s Park.
Friday’s walk, focusing on art and literature — Eliot, fellow poets Charles Olson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the artists, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and Fitz Hugh Lane, among the many who came here for inspiration — begins at noon also at St. Peter’s Park.
Saturday’s walk, billed as being for families, begins at 10:45 a.m. at City Hall, featuring Burton’s books, the Gloucester Sea Serpent, Capt. Charlie Heberle, the founder of the Building Center who began life as an indentured servant, and the great Blackburn, whose selfless will to survive and bring his dead mate back with him after being lost in a winter storm cost him the fingers on his hands.
Each stopping station has a raised symbol linked to the subject at hand, with the city prepared to give a laminated copy of all 42 in exchange for evidence that each rubbing has been made. There are also two short films that can be viewed by smartphone and snap and send virtual postcards.
The Sunday dedication is aimed to focus on the city’s marine heritage, and begins at noon Sunday at the re-dedication of Gus Foote Park, a pocket park off Rogers Street in front of the Gloucester House Restaurant.
The park, honoring the man who served as Ward 2’s city councilor for more than three decades, has been exquisitely reinvented as a butterfly and hummingbird garden. This will mark the second re-dedication of Foote’s park, possibly a record for a living figure.
From Foote Park, the mayor will lead a tour that opens insight into salting fish, Gorton’s the 19th-century industrial innovator that took fish from Gloucester into the heartland, the St. Peter’s Fiesta and the Tarr & Wonson Paint Factory where a copper based paint was invented in 1863 to repel ocean parasites that ate into hulls. The paint reduced drag and dry-docking and kept Gloucester at the apex of global fishing through the mid-20th century.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.