By 1980, American cities were discovering the value of revitalizing their waterfronts, and a small group of visionaries came together at a public seminar to imagine how a revitalized Riverfront could benefit Hartford and East Hartford. A year later, a non-profit organization – Riverfront Recapture – was created to lead a public-private effort to reconnect Hartford and East Hartford to the river.

A public seminar at the Old State House focuses attention on ways to reunite Hartford with its river. Hosted by The Travelers Insurance Companies, the meeting is sponsored by the Downtown Council, the City of Hartford, Connecticut River Committee, Connecticut River Watershed Council, and the Hartford Architecture Conservancy.

Riverfront Recapture is founded to develop a comprehensive plan to reunite Hartford with its Riverfront.

A study of the possibilities is published, inviting the community to help develop “a Riverfront Plan that works.”

The Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund approves a joint application by the City of Hartford and the Town of East Hartford to design and construct initial physical improvements at three sites along the river.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation agrees to restore public access to the Riverfront when it reconstructs I-91. Plans are completed for improvements to Hartford’s Riverside Park, East Hartford’s boat launch area, and a site beneath the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford.

A new dock and scenic overlook are completed at Hartford’s Charter Oak Landing. A gazebo and playscape are among the first improvements at Riverside Park.

The Connecticut General Assembly makes its first authorization of funds to Riverfront Recapture for park development. Excursion boat service returns to Hartford. The first phase of East Hartford’s Great River Park is opened for public use.

Groundbreaking ceremonies launch the second phase of improvements at Great River Park, including a scenic overlook and lighting. Plans are completed for a new park at Charter Oak Landing.

Construction begins for the public park at Charter Oak Landing. Architects are hired to develop a plan for a public space over I-91 to restore access to the Riverfront.

Dedication ceremonies open Charter Oak Landing, which includes the first portion of the riverwalk system. Floating docks are installed at Riverside Park to facilitate the expansion of our community rowing program.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation accepts our proposed designs for a landscaped platform over I-91 and a pedestrian promenade on Founders Bridge. It guarantees the projects will be built as part of the highway interchange reconstruction. The first stretch of the riverwalk in East Hartford, between the Bulkeley and Founders Bridges, is opened for public use. Master planning begins for a Windsor riverwalk.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation awards a construction contract for the ambitious I-91 project that includes our designs for restored access between downtown and the river. Construction also begins with additional improvements at Charter Oak Landing as part of an expansion that will double the park’s size. A 12-state eastern regional bass tournament returns to the Riverfront for a second consecutive year, which is the first time the competition has selected the same site in successive years.

Construction begins on the I-91 project. Ceremonies dedicate new facilities at Charter Oak Landing, including a boat launch and wharf, a children’s playscape, and a lighted riverwalk. Construction begins on the next phase of public improvements to Riverside Park. A national triathlon attracts 1,100 athletes for a competition that includes a swim in the river.

Planning begins for riverwalks that will connect downtown Hartford with Riverside Park to the north and Charter Oak Landing to the south. Work is completed for Riverside Park improvements, including lighting, picnic areas, riverwalks, and additional parking. Our rowing program continues to grow with two eight-oared shells and the creation of a new crew program at Hartford Public High School.

Construction begins on the final phase of the original master plan for East Hartford’s Riverfront. Improvements will include lighted riverwalks, a longer boat ramp and docks, an amphitheater, and a new entrance road to the park. Planning begins for a boathouse in Riverside Park to accommodate the growing rowing program. The Windsor Town Council approves the master plan for Riverfront park development. Our parks hosted a BASSMASTER Top 100 Tournament, which attracts a national field of professional and amateur anglers — the first time a tournament of this caliber is held in the Northeast. The elevated section of I-91 in downtown Hartford is demolished, clearing the way for the landscaped plaza over the highway to reunite the central city with its Riverfront.

American Rivers selects Riverfront Recapture for one of its first “America’s Most Improved Urban Rivers” awards in economic revitalization. The award recognizes the importance of Riverfront sporting events that bring visitors here to spend time and money. Federal funding is approved for a pedestrian bridge over Columbus Boulevard to connect Constitution Plaza with the I-91 platform in construction.

Completion of East Hartford’s amphitheater and the southern portion of the riverwalk over the Hockanum River to the Charter Oak Bridge, opening pedestrian and bicycle access between Great River Park in East Hartford and Charter Oak Landing in Hartford. The Capitol Region Partnership, a consortium of regional organizations, convenes an Ad Hoc Riverfront Council to review the project’s economic development potential and to recommend a management plan.

The Ad Hoc Riverfront Council recommends a riverfront parks management structure that would involve the municipalities of East Hartford and Hartford, working in partnership with the Metropolitan District Commission and Riverfront Recapture. The US Rowing Association brings its national convention to Hartford and sets USRA attendance records. An international panel of jurors selects Riverfront Recapture as the winner of The Waterfront Center’s Top Honor Award for Excellence on the Waterfront.

Plaza Construction, 1998

Unique partnership agreements give Riverfront Recapture responsibility for managing Riverfront parks in Hartford and East Hartford. The Metropolitan District Commission agrees to maintain the Riverfront parks, fund a park rangers program that Riverfront Recapture administers, at its expense. The management plan is hailed as a national model for urban parks. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving awards Riverfront Recapture a $1 million grant over four years to help the organization build the internal capacity to take on park management responsibilities. The Greater Hartford Jaycees commits $500,000 to launch a fund-raising campaign for a boathouse for our Community Rowing Program.

Riverfront Plaza opens, reconnecting downtown Hartford with the Connecticut River. Grassy terraces descend to the Riverfront, creating amphitheater seating for 2,000 people, and a dock at the base of the terraces brings excursion boat service into downtown for the first time in more than 60 years. A pedestrian promenade on Founders Bridge links Riverfront parks in Hartford and East Hartford. A “walkabout” around a Bulkeley Bridge abutment on the Hartford bank restores pedestrian access between downtown and the century-old Riverside Park, to the north.

Columbus Boulevard Bridge Construction, 2000

Construction begins on the Columbus Boulevard Bridge and ramp to Constitution Plaza that will significantly enhance pedestrian access between downtown Hartford and the Riverfront. A permanent canopy is erected over the stage at the base of the downtown terraces. Our first capital projects campaign raises funding from corporations, foundations, and individuals for the canopy and a proposed boathouse for the community rowing program.

The American Society of Landscape Architects presents its top design award to Riverfront Recapture for Riverfront Plaza.

The Columbus Boulevard Bridge opens, creating direct, plaza-level pedestrian access between downtown Hartford and the Riverfront. Construction begins on Greater Hartford Jaycees Community Boathouse in Riverside Park. The Connecticut General Assembly authorizes $3.9 million for additional Riverside Park improvements and riverwalks.

Boathouse opens to great fanfare. Adult rowing classes are fully booked, and high school program triples in size. The second-floor community room hosts more than 50 events between June and December. Construction begins on Riverwalk Downtown connection between Founders and Bulkeley Bridges on Hartford’s Riverfront. The capital campaign exceeds goal of $5.2 million for boathouse and downtown performance space.

Riverwalk Downtown opens to the public, creating a riverwalk connection between Founders and Bulkeley Bridges in Hartford. Air-conditioning is added to the boathouse community room, making it more marketable for weddings and other private events during the summer. A total of 102 private events were booked. The Riverfront parks’ value as catalysts for economic investment becomes apparent, with more than $1 billion worth of development projects in construction – or in the final design – on sites within walking distance of the Riverfront. Projects include the Connecticut Convention Center, hotels, apartments, offices, and a retail/entertainment complex. The Connecticut Center for Science & Exploration, planned for a site immediately adjacent to Riverfront Plaza, has set a goal of opening in 2007.

The Riverfront Adventure Challenge Course in Riverside Park is expanded with the construction of a climbing tower and adding new elements.  Permits are received for Riverwalk North, the paved, lighted connection from the north side of the Bulkeley Bridge into Riverside Park. The project, which also includes extensive landscaping around the boathouse, will move into construction in 2005.

Lincoln Financial Group and the Greater Hartford Arts Council announced plans for a $500,000 gift to create a sculpture walk within the Riverfront parks in Hartford and East Hartford. The 15 pieces of sculpture will have themes related to Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy. Ground is broken for Riverwalk North and Riverside Park improvements, including the construction of courtyards and landscaping around the boathouse and a new boat launch. Riverwalk North will reconnect Riverside Park and downtown Hartford, restoring public access part of the original park plan in the 1890s.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary with a series of special events, starting with a season kick-off concert featuring the Four Tops, who had a Top Ten hit recording in 1981, when the organization was created. The first five pieces of the Lincoln Financial Group Sculpture Walk are installed in locations outside the floodplain, such as Riverfront Plaza and the Founders Bridge promenade. Pieces in the floodplain, which require more extensive permitting from various agencies, will be installed in 2008.

Construction completed on Riverwalk North and Riverside Park improvements – which immediately draw impressive numbers of visitors. The Greater Hartford Marathon revised its course to include Riverwalk North, and more than 8,000 runners enjoyed the new views. Attendance in the Riverfront parks continues to grow – and sets a new record of 914,000 visitors.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bulkeley Bridge, which has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, Riverfront Recapture and the Connecticut Department of Transportation illuminated the bridge’s stone arches with colorful LED lighting.

The Riverfront Dragon Boat and Asian Festival expands to a two-day event, attracting hundreds of out-of-state competitors as well as local teams. The City of Hartford, through the Greater Hartford Arts Council, funds a wayfinding signage program for the Hartford Riverfront parks.

The 16th piece of art in the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk is installed at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza. Wayfinding signs are installed in our parks in Hartford. Our parks had record-breaking attendance – more than 960,000 visitors.

Planning continues on design and permitting for the Riverwalk South project that will connect the downtown Riverfront to Charter Oak Landing – completing a three-mile continuous loop of riverwalks on both banks of the river between Founders and Charter Oak Bridges. Our rowing program hosted the US Rowing Association annual convention, which brings 650 rowers to Hartford for three days of convention activity.

A stone bench outside our boathouse is unveiled in tribute to the visionary men and women who founded Riverfront Recapture. The organization’s first chairman and president, Rory O’Neil, and Jack Reige, respectively.

The Town of East Hartford completed a dike stabilization project behind Riverpoint Condominium in Great River Park. The line of steel sheets replaced wooden pilings that no longer provided the needed stability or erosion protection required by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

After several years of discussion with the State and meetings with stakeholders, we received a $1.5 million grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the Riverwalk South & Gateway project. The funds will be used for design and permitting as well as minor temporary improvements within the project area. We received a multi-year grant from the William and Alice Mortensen Foundation for improvements to the stage and canopy at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza: replace the canopy fabric, clean and re-paint the structure, upgrade the lighting to LED, and restore the sound system. Additionally, the trails north of the boathouse in Riverside Park are expanded, providing more options for enjoying the floodplain forest and river.

Joe Marfuggi & Michael Zaleski at The Big Joe

Utilizing the State’s Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit program, we began upgrading the park lighting to LED to reduce maintenance and cut utility bills for the City, Town, and State. More than 200 of the decorative light poles are upgraded in phase I of the project. In May, President and CEO Joe Marfuggi retired after 29 years at the helm of Riverfront Recapture. Michael Zaleski, former Executive Director of the Hartford Business Improvement District, takes control with energy and purpose.

After much anticipation, the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk mobile tour is launched; Doris Kearns Goodwin narrates stories about Lincoln’s life and legacy, information about artists and the sculptures, as well as excerpts from her book, Team of Rivals.  Improvements are made in Hartford between Mortensen Riverfront Plaza and Charter Oak Landing, providing a link between the two park areas. The stone dust and partially paved walkway are temporary measures intended to improve the visitor experience. At the same time, the main project continues its evolution into a flood control project during the design and permitting process. The second phase of our lighting project is completed with another 170 plus decorative light poles upgraded to LED. The City, Town, and State all benefit from significantly reduced electrical expenses.

USA Cycling's National Cyclocross National Championships

Riverside Park was the site for USA Cycling’s Cyclocross National Championships. Cyclists from across the country raced through mud, snow, and ice, bringing thousands of racers and spectators.  Additional temporary improvements made to the Riverwalk South & Gateway project area include removing invasive plants, cutting dead and diseased trees, and pruning others to expand the river view. We, along with the City of Hartford, receive Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternative Program funding to design and build a Riverwalk extension from Riverside Park to the Town of Windsor. The extension will add more than 2 miles of paved walkway to the park system.

A 40.1 Kwh photovoltaic array was installed on the Boathouse roof, supported by contributions, and NAA Tax Credits should produce about 85% of the building’s electricity. In addition, we executed a 15 year Zero Emission Renewal Energy Credit contract with Eversource, which earns us $103 for every thousand Kwh of power produced. Riverfront Recapture receives Bank of America’s coveted Neighborhood Builders Award and looks to future expansion to the north, completing Phase I, II, and III environmental studies on potential property acquisition. Funding is secured from CRDA for Great River Park improvements. 

Planning and permitting is underway for 2+ mile extension, the Hartford to Windsor Riverwalk. Mortensen Riverfront Plaza stage canopy improvements completed – new canopy, lighting, and sound systems. A KaBOOM! Playscape is installed in Charter Oak Landing, thanks to funding and volunteers from Travelers, and we acquire 60-acres of land to build a riverfront park in the north end of Hartford and southeast end of Windsor.

New entry garden beds replaced prior plantings at Charter Oak Landing and Riverside Park; new entry gate installed at Charter Oak Landing. 50 new trees planted in Great River Park. Plans and permitting underway for Great River Park improvements. Sitework and other improvements at the Riverfront Land parcel in preparation for the Hartford to Windsor Riverwalk. Petition, signed by community members, was submitted to Hartford City Council to name the future Hartford to Windsor Riverwalk the Joe Marfuggi Riverwalk.

Public announcements of Riverfront Land acquisition (April) and the Joe Marfuggi Riverwalk (August); capital campaign begun for Joe Marfuggi Riverwalk amenities. Public events held following a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19 pandemic. The men’s rowing team was the highest ranking in points in USRowing’s Masters Nationals for the second time in five years.

Columbus Boulevard Bridge enhanced with new railings and programmable LED lighting. Riverfront Community Rowing achievements included U16 girls competing at the USRowing Youth National Championships for the first time, and two awards from the USRowing National Championships bringing home the men’s championship trophy for the third time in seven years and the Overall National Champions for the first time ever, reflecting both the men’s and women’s teams winning the overall points trophy. More than 20 new trees were planted in Riverside Park and Charter Oak Landing. The original 2002 Boathouse HVAC system was replaced. We hosted the 2022 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championship races in December for the second time in five years; competitors from across the United States raced on a 1+ mile course through mud and snow.

The third rainiest year on record in Connecticut (67.58” in Hartford, 14.57” inches above normal) resulted in seasonal and unseasonal floods: April flood waters reached 15.31’; May -15.44’; July-21.08’; and December-21.69’. This resulted in full or partial park closures for nine days in April, five days in May, 17 days in July, and three days in December. Environmental regulatory permits were submitted for the site remediation and construction of Riverfront Land initial improvements and Windsor Meadows State Park multimodal trail. Hargreaves Jones was hired to develop a master plan for our yet-to-be-named fifth park on the 60-acre parcel of riverfront land in northeast Hartford and southeast Windsor. The Joe Marfuggi Riverwalk campaign reached $1,129,949 in financial commitments from individuals and foundations. The UConn research team is gathering historical data to curate and include in the six galleries focused on specific time periods along the planned riverwalk.

Aerial view of future park, August 2023

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