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A New Fishing Pier For the Next Hundred Years

Many people who grew up on the North Shore have fond memories of catching their first fish on the Salem Willows Park Pier. That grand old structure stood for well over 100 years before succumbing to the eventualities of time and the saltwater environment. Next fall the construction of a new pier will begin and, if all goes well, new memories will be made there by the summer of 2024! This project is another example of the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) putting saltwater fishing permit fees to work for the betterment of the angling experience in Massachusetts.

The original Salem Willows Park Pier was permitted for construction in 1894 and stood until 2021 when age and sea-level rise required its removal under an emergency action. The old pier was calving parts during coastal storm events causing hazards to navigation. Many of the pilings holding up the dilapidated pier were from the initial structure! The new pier will extend out into Salem Sound 346 feet similarly to the old pier, but will also have a 16 foot x 60 foot ‘T’ at the end of the gangway. This design allows for more people to fish from the end of the pier, which is generally the most coveted location for angling.

For those who have never been to Salem Willows Park it is a showpiece for the city, located at the tip of the Salem Neck peninsula. Named for the European white willow trees planted there in 1801 to form a shaded walk for patients convalescing at a nearby hospital, the area became a public park in 1858. Over the next century, popular attractions such as an amusement park, casino, and ballroom would come and go. These days, in addition to the fishing pier, this 35-acre park still has much to offer in the form of food kiosks, picnic tables and gazebos, walking trails, tennis courts, sandy and rocky shorelines for exploring, and a (seasonally operated) arcade. All of these amenities are complemented with spectacular views of scenic Salem Sound!

This pier project officially kicked off in 2020, when DMF and the Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA) entered into a Land Management Agreement (LMA) with the City of Salem. The LMA is a contract that spells out what the project is and the responsibilities of all parties. In most cases, DMF and FBA pay for and manage the project’s design and oversee the initial construction, while the day-to-day operation becomes the responsibility of the municipality once the facility is complete. In the LMA with Salem, DMF’s fiscal liability is limited to two million dollars with Salem paying the remainder of the construction costs. After all details of the LMA were negotiated, DMF put the engineering out to bid and the firm GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. was contracted to perform engineering tasks which include permitting, planning, and engineering of the new pier and later to include the surrounding area.

In addition to a new pier to act as a centerpiece for this scenic seaside park, the approach and landing area will be updated. The paved area and seawall leading to the pier entrance will be removed or secured, filled, graded, and repaved making the approach ADA compliant. Much of the cost of the new pier and approach is being paid for with Saltwater Recreational Fishing Permit dollars. The law which requires a permit for all saltwater anglers aged sixteen and older also stipulates that a full third of all money collected from the sale of those permits goes to improving public access. The old Salem Willows Pier was a great place to fish for well over one hundred years; the new fishing pier will serve the fishing public for many more years!

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