ROCKPORT — After two years of renovations, Millbrook Meadow is set to officially reopen to the public on Saturday, Aug. 17.
"It's exciting that it's turned out so well," said Laura Hallowell, Millbrook Meadow Conservancy's project manager. "So many people are down there already."
In July, while the grass was still growing in, the park had a "soft opening." Guests were invited to use the new playground space and get up-close to Millie the Millbrook Whale, a 10-foot-long, granite play sculpture by Maine artist Thomas Berger.
Then, at the start of August, the conservancy quietly removed the rope barriers to the grass.
"We didn't want heavy foot traffic if possible for the next couple of weeks," said Hallowell.
The park's first real grounds test came Sunday during the 40th annual Rockport Acoustic Music Festival. According to Samuel Coulbourn, chairman of the Millbrook Meadow Committee, the event was a success.
"It was the best turn-out since about 2014," Coulbourn said. "Children were swarming the new playground." As for feedback on the park, "people are really delighted of how turned out."
Hallowell noted the park's three new electrical outlets came in handy. For the first time, "we didn't have to borrow (electricity) from our neighbors."
With the soft openings out of the way, the conservancy is ready to host a grand opening celebration for all to enjoy. On opening day, beginning with a ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m., guests are welcome to stop by the park for live music, guided nature tours, jugglers, and miniature horses.
The event will also feature Rockport Council on Aging's annual Rubber Duck Race. More than 500 rubber ducks will be released down the newly redeveloped Mill Brook that runs through the park about an hour after the ribbon cutting. Each duck will have the name of its owner written on the bottom. Whoever's duck crosses the finish line first wins the $200 grand prize. Additional $50 prizes will also be given to the runners-up.
Ducks will be available to purchase during the event for $5 each. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Rockport Council on Aging.
The Millbrook Meadow Committee first began raising money for the restoration project in 2012. Since then, $1.2 million in community preservation funds and $500,000 from private donations was spent on the project.
In 2013, Milone & MacBroom, a civil engineering and landscape architecture firm based in Cheshire, Connecticut, was brought on to survey the land and organize a list of proposed changes.
First on the list was to dredge the two ponds in the park, Mill Pond and Frog Pond. SumCo Environmental of Salem was hired in 2017 to remove around 3,350 tons of sediment and an additional 5,000 square feet of cattail fields.
The following year, SumCo resurrected the original Mill Brook. In the 1940s, contractors re-purposed the brook into a straight drainage ditch lined with steep granite walls. The new brook, flowing naturally as it once did, is much more visitor-friendly, with stones and plants placed along its winding banks.
Despite the massive overhaul of Millbrook Meadow, Coulbourn said there's still work to be done to keep it running smoothly.
"It goes on and on," he said. "Now, we're trying to get people to join the conservancy for $25 a year. We can use all the support we can get because sooner rather than later there'll be something to do."
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.