A group of passionate, community activists— an architect, an interior designer, and a landscape designer— formed a project committee to seek and complete a very meaningful upgrade to Seaside Park, a 156-year-old Frederick Law Olmsted park along Long Island Sound in Bridgeport, CT. 

This spring, the six-year effort finally came to completion with a corner of the park upgraded in a very “Olmstedian” way to be more inviting, healthy and accessible for all. The project included planting new trees and an engineered looping pathway to highlight the allée of trees, views and original principles of Olmsted’s designs. Below-ground infrastructure includes a drip irrigation system— much needed after last year’s drought required volunteer teams of waterers to deep soak the 17 new trees. 

This success was accomplished through engaging the community and South-End NRZ, the University of Bridgeport as the fiduciary and applying and securing funding and gifts from the Community Environmental Benefit Fund, the Madelyn and Stephen Santa Environmental Fund and O&G Industries, as well as many volunteers and suppliers who offered discounted services to see this to completion. 

The team leaders, architect Barbara Geddis, FAIA, and designer Beth Santa worked tirelessly to gain an understanding of the need for and benefits of the project, approvals by the City & City Parks Commission, donors and others to support this park within a park. 

Key Partners and Supporters: 

-The Fairfield Garden Club $15,000 for the initial planting of new trees
-The Women’s Seaman’s Friend Society of CT $10,000 toward trees
-Stephen J and Madelyn F Santa Environmental Fund $10,000
-Bridgeport Community Environmental Benefit Fund $100,000
-University of Bridgeport— fiduciary, project fiscal management and construction coordination
-O&G Industries— $10,000 in pathway stone, celebrating 100 years
-Land Canvas Landscape Architecture, Debra DeVries-Dalton LEED AP, ASLA, Barbara Yaeger PLA, ASLA, CANP
-Neal Jain, Land Surveying Services, LLC
-Melanie Strout, UB Director of Civic Engagement and the UB Watering Team
-South End NRZ for community support and advice
-Bridgeport Waterfront Advisory Board and Trust for Public Land for inspiration and advice along the way
-Aspetuck Land Trust for watering volunteers and advice on project coordination
-The Nature Conservancy
-City of Bridgeport and the Bridgeport Parks Commission for approvals of the project and a water hook-up for irrigation
-Becker Companies LLC for construction and installation
-Many other unnamed advisors and helpers 

The trail is influenced by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of the park’s 1867 original design. Seaside Gateway Trail team leaders hired Land Canvas Landscape Architecture, who designed a tree canopy layout and looped pathways that wind through the trees in his signature curvilinear and rambling style while framing the natural vista beyond. The concept of replenishing the tree canopy at Seaside Park originated from The Fairfield Garden Club as a way for the club to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth. In 2022, they along with the Women’s Seaman’s Friend Society of CT funded and planted 17 hardy native trees that are an essential part of the design. 

“The new footpaths and tree canopy of the Seaside Gateway Trail create a welcoming doorway to Bridgeport’s spectacular waterfront,” says Beth Santa, Seaside Gateway Trail Team Leader. “The new pathway design feels like it was created 150 years ago and gives new purpose to the layout of the trees, young and old. It continues Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape design philosophy that embraced the healing power of nature that is provided by plants, shade, fresh air, and vista.” 

Team Leader Barbara Geddis, FAIA, talks about Olmsted’s philosophy of accessibility for all. “Six years ago, we wanted to bring back the original vision of Seaside with trees that were Olmsted favorites from Central Park and Prospect Park and with wandering footpaths ten feet wide with universal accessibility. The fundamental concept was a gift of shaded open space to all the people of Bridgeport right at the Park Avenue arch. Olmsted believed parks and walking were cornerstones of physical and mental health. We wanted to restore this 1.5- acre corner to that vision.” 

The Seaside Gateway Trail looks forward to the future as we work to install the final finishing elements of Phase II, which includes the installation of bollards and benches for safety and comfort. Additional trees are needed at the new entries to provide shade for benches and at Waldemere Avenue to replenish aging specimens along the original tree-lined border. Also planned is the installation of beds of native grass and ground cover plantings to soften the landscape edges and prevent erosion. Completion of this phase will rely upon additional private funding and additional grants.

Beth Santa, Team Lead, Seaside Gateway Trail
Barbara Geddis, FAIA, Team Lead, Seaside Gateway Trail