Arboretum takes shape at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth

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CAPE ELIZABETH — On a clear day, you can almost see forever at Fort Williams Park, where the Cliff Walk view has been vastly improved.

Slated to become the first section of the Arboretum at Fort Williams, the area now called the Cliffside Demonstration Site has been cleared of invasive vegetation and adorned with new walking paths and stone retaining walls.

“I’m biased, but I think it is a remarkable transformation. We have recovered about an acre of land people have not been able to use for a long time,” said Katharyn Bacastow, chairwoman of the arboretum steering committee, which is part of the Fort Williams Charitable Foundation.

Adjacent to the former Battery Hobart and the Cliff Walk extending from above Ship Cove Beach to Portland Head Light, the arboretum site is the first of 15 within the 90-acre park to be landscaped to promote the growth of native vegetation and enhance park views.

Bacastow said the committee anticipates new planting and hardscaping, including an amphitheater area, will be finished by the end of June. The work was done by Topsham-based Linkel Construction with a budget of about $350,000.

The committee is still discussing which areas to work on next, but Bacastow said finishing the design for the children’s garden near the park pond and tennis courts is a high priority. The arboretum sites will be linked by trails.

To clear the Cliffside Demonstration site, volunteers uprooted Japanese honeysuckle, Oriental bittersweet and Japanese knotweed growing up a bluff above the existing path and below the emplacements known as Battery Hobart.

As the vegetation was removed, it was discovered the area might have been home to the endangered New England cottontail rabbit. Almost a year ago, officials from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ordered work to be stopped so biologists could find and relocate cottontails.

Judy Camuso, a department wildlife biologist, estimated about 300 New England cottontails live in Maine.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said no rabbits were found at the park, although the species has been found on town property off Spurwink Avenue.

Bacastow said volunteers are always welcome to help develop the arboretum sites, and added the labor could also have additional benefits.

“This could be a living demonstration of dealing with invasives in your own yard,” she said.

Efforts to create the arboretum are funded through grants, private donations and an annual garden tour fundraiser. This year’s tour is scheduled for July 14.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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The Cliff Walk at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth is the first of 15 park sites to be cleared and replanted to create the Arboretum at Fort Williams. Work at the site is expected to be completed by Memorial Day.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.