NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 24, 2014

Let's enjoy the wonders of winter

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Well, there now — with a January thaw behind us we finally have a normal winter of the kind we used to know at hand.

Thanks be to the vagaries of weather that shunted the heavy snow of Tuesday seaward off Cape Ann.

We had snow for Christmas and ice for skating, followed by a welcomed thaw that abetted the improvement of skating surfaces.

All of that for a proper winter’s celebration upcoming at Newburyport’s Bartlet Mall.

That is not the only venue for out-of-doors fun, but it’s the grandest attraction for those who welcome sliding and skating.

During the deepest part of winter, it can be as popular as bathing at Plum Island is during July and August.

There was a time when the Mall pond, longer than a football field in length and double that at its middle, would be freed of snow following a storm that allowed for both hockey and festive skating when the young would form snap the whip lines, and parents, still young at heart, would circle the pond, arm in arm with graceful swoops.

As for other seasons, with Newburyport High School just across the street, the Mall was, in its earliest time, what the waterfront has become for most of the year.

Its history of development is rich in the city’s evolution, and maintenance has been ongoing by those who take their commitment seriously.

Once little more than an ugly bog created by natural causes, the Bartlet Mall as we know it was created by Newburyport’s leaders who changed it into a pond early on, and graced the bankings with tree plantings. That led to the creation of a truly magnificent, landscaped park of the late 19th century.

Among the issues addressed was the city’s need for a water source for fighting fires in the days of hand pumping fire apparatus, and pipes were installed from the pond to strategic locations.

Those drains were central to the subsequent placement of the fountain in the 19th century and its removal for restoration a quarter of a century ago during which the damaged concrete foundation was replaced.

If the ancient drainage system for the pond has been decommissioned, it’s an important loss because it complicates environmental maintenance that the pond sorely needs.

Winter’s cloak of snow and ice, however, provide an inviting cover of what will beg for attention come spring and summer, so let us enjoy.

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Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is plantejr@comcast.net.