New amenities online at Salem Willows

·2 min read

Jul. 3—SALEM — New tennis and pickleball courts, a hill transformed into a walkable garden, and parking stalls (not spots) await visitors at the new Salem Willows.

Most of the park was open Friday, a day ahead of the city's Independence Day celebration on Saturday, July 2, and the park's busiest summertime weekend each year. The park's new tennis and pickleball courts were still taped off and out of order Friday, pending outstanding punch-list items to finish the work, according to Ward 1 City Councilor Bob McCarthy.

The biggest changes to the park come in and around a newly configured parking area. In addition to providing newly delineated spaces to replace a crater-filled dirt lot, "the hill" — a grassy knoll between the main park grounds and its parking area — has been re-landscaped and given a paved walking path throughout it. The path includes a stop with a swinging bench and platform for wheelchair accessibility.

The parking stalls are made of gravel held in place by rubber material, with each space separated by cobblestones. Other parts of the park have also been freshened up with newly established plants. Many of the newly planted areas remain fenced off with water sprinklers to help plants establish.

The work was paid for with the city's $30 million "Signature Parks" program announced in 2020 to boost Salem's most prominent greenspaces ahead of its 400th anniversary in 2026. The program, which targeted the Willows with about $3.5 million in renovations, was also responsible for recently completed work at Forest River Park, major upgrades at Palmer Cove Park and work at Salem Common.

But through the Signature Parks initiative, the city wasn't just "making an investment in the park," McCarthy said. "We're trying to formalize the parking so it's more ordered and less haphazard."

There's also more work on the way. With many of Salem's park projects rolling out in phases, the next phase for the Willows will mark the return of the park's currently decommissioned pier. The project has received more than $4 million in funding after storms over the past decade took the famous fishing spot offline on a regular basis.

The new pier will be a high-enough elevation that it won't be as subject to ocean rise, but also not so high as to endanger fish being caught and released.

"We're finishing up the permitting for the pier," McCarthy said, "and we'll hopefully get to the design-build stage and start construction at some point later this year or early next."

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.