The rain held off, even though the Department of Public Works erected a tent, and the people turned out Friday afternoon as the city officially opened 41 acres of Rocky Point shoreline to the public.
Barbara Meike, with her dog Scooter as company, was one of those who showed up. Anita Ferla, the wife of the late Conrad Ferla, who ran the former amusement park for decades, was also there. Ferla cut the ribbon to open the city property.
“I remember it all – the chowder at the Shore Dinner Hall – I came here when I was a child,” Meike said.
“I’m so glad to be here,” Ferla added.
When she and Conrad married – Anita came to this country from Italy – she remembers being told that he would be running an amusement park. She had visions of Monte Carlo, only to discover a seasonal park. She also soon learned that the park demanded a lot of Conrad’s time and that he would be there instead of being home.
Nonetheless, Anita, like many others, has affection for the park. Also, she said she is disheartened by the decline of the property since it closed for good in 1995.
Looking around Friday, across the fence that separates the city land from the remaining 83 acres, under the receivership of the Small Business Administration (SBA), she said Conrad would have been distraught to see the property as it is today. But Anita, like Barbara, is happy to have the coastline open to the public.
Mayor Scott Avedisian was the emcee for the opening ceremony that included comments from federal and state officials who all delivered a message of congratulations to the city administration for securing the land and to city crews for the work they have done. Improvements include a paved walkway following the shoreline, with cleared overlooks and areas to access the rocks and beaches along the way. There is a parking lot near the former Rocky Point gate on Rocky Point Avenue. The park is not open to motor vehicles.
Acquisition of the remaining park acres was also a common theme Friday.
“We’re going from one heyday of Rhode Island to another heyday of Rhode Island,” Avedisian said.
Avedisian has been consistently supportive of acquiring the complete park property. He backed efforts for a bond issue, approved by voters, that provides $10 million to purchase the remaining property.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s office was instrumental in securing a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) $2.2 million grant that, along with state and city funds, enabled the purchase of the land. He pledged to work toward acquiring the rest of the land and applauded efforts to “restore and return this place to the humble people of Rhode Island.”
NOAA’s policy director, Sally Yozell, said the land would continue to amuse the people of Rhode Island for generations to come. Moreover, she said the park is a reminder that “healthy oceans do matter” and that “this is the kind of leadership that understands that.”
“People of Rhode Island love this place,” said Janet Coit, director of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). She called the acquisition of the parcel “a story of partnership and fortitude” that couldn’t have happened without NOAA.
Turning to what lies ahead – and to Yozell – she added, “We could use a few more million dollars.”
“We all want to celebrate today,” she continued, “but we have to keep our eyes on the rest…we’ll work really hard with the SBA to get the rest of the property together.”
The DEM is in the process of obtaining an appraisal on the remaining acres, at which point it expects to start negotiations with the SBA.