University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Waterfront Upgrade Rolls North

Burlington waterfront bikepath
Photograph by Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist '09


Waterfront Upgrade Rolls North

Older alumni remember Burlington’s waterfront as weeds, train tracks, oil tanks, maybe a trace of menace. Mayor Bernie Sanders administration began to change all that in the 1980s with public reclamation of land, creation of the Community Boathouse and Waterfront Park, visionary initiatives that have matured into the city’s collective front yard. 

But just to the north sat the still-ragged “Urban Reserve” or “North 40.” Aside from the bike path built atop the old railbed, for years improvements to this acreage were minor. 

That recently changed dramatically. From the Andy A_Dog Williams Skatepark to North Beach, things are looking up along Burlington’s beloved strip of blacktop. 

Jesse Bridges ’02, director of Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront for the past five years, has helped lead and oversee the work. About to embark on a new career challenge, CEO of United Way of Northwest Vermont, Bridges counts the project among his proudest accomplishments. Walking the bike path on a spring morning, he points out details large and small—the under-construction Community Sailing Center, a grove of aspens preserved, lakeside Barre granite steps ideal for dog diving or sunset watching. Workers installing exercise equipment donated by the UVM Medical Center offer Bridges the chance to try it out. He laughs and declines. Too hot today.

Moving the path close to the lakeshore was fundamental to the project. Bridges gestures at the view and talks about the beauty it will add to the last mile of the Vermont City Marathon in a couple of weeks. Also key, finding the aesthetic sweet spot between urban park and natural landscape, while recognizing the history and beauty in, say, a rusted steel wall at water’s edge, some BTV industrial soul. 

So revisit the bikepath your next time in Burlington. But it’s not the bikepath now; it’s the Burlington Greenway, a linear park with multiple uses. You might bump into Jesse Bridges there. “I come out here and run or bike with my kids all the time,” he says. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to be part of creating something that you can interact with and experience.” 

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