Boat launch use propels changes at Portland’s East End Beach

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PORTLAND — On an early spring day with a storm approaching, there’s little traffic at the boat launch at East End Beach.

But return on a weekend in the summer and the scene will be very different, according to Matthew Kennedy.

“Demand is extremely high, particularly with use of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards,” Kennedy, president of Friends of the Eastern Promenade, said April 7.

The rising demand has led the city and Friends to collaborate on the East End Waterfront Access Project, which will construct a new launch area for non-motorized watercraft.

Four concepts will be presented at a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at the East End Community School Cafeteria, 195 North St.

“The idea, without displacing anyone, is to find a way to accommodate (everyone),” Kennedy said.

City Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman on Monday said preliminary work was funded largely with a $22,500 Maine Coastal Program grant from the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as well as money raised by the Friends and in-kind work from city staff.

“There is a real safety concern in sharing the facility,” he said about parking, boat storage, and existing boat launches for private and commercial watercraft.

The project has also received a Maine Department of Transportation Small Harbor Improvement Program grant of $125,000, and the Friends have committed to privately raising a full match to fund construction.

The DOT funding will become available in January. Construction is expected to begin in 2017 or 2018, contingent on the Friends’ fundraising and when permits are granted.

Kennedy said a possible location for a new launch is the northwest cove area beyond the storage racks the city rents to boaters. The area is subject to tides, however, so other sites could be considered.

“We are not thinking it has to be another dock,” he said.

Needelman said people launching kayaks and other paddle boats should be using East End Beach or spots away from the existing boat launch.

“It is not the intent of the recreational ramp to serve the human-powered boats,” he said. “(But) many of those who are new to the activity may not want to bring a boat to East End Beach or are not comfortable in getting into the boat on a beach.”

The boat launch is also in high demand by owners of motorized watercraft, including people who want to get to larger boats moored off the beach.

Zack Anchors, owner of Portland Paddle, a tour company established in 2013, said demand for tours and the number of people launching non-motorized watercraft has grown.

“We started out not sure how the demand would be,” he said. “We quickly learned there are a lot of people who want to get out.”

This year, he expects to operate a fleet of 40 kayaks and have eight guides for tours of Casco Bay and its islands

Needelman, Kennedy and Anchors all agreed on the need to reduce congestion at the area while providing all users equal access to the water.

“If people are launching from the boat ramp, it creates safety issues,” Anchors said, adding he appreciated how the city and Friends were taking the lead in finding a solution.

Needelman said the April 21 meeting is a key step moving forward.

“We want people to understand the project and provide feedback on the alternatives,” he said. “We want to expand and improve the public’s access to the water.”

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

Matthew Kennedy, president of Friends of the Eastern Promenade, said the group is committing to raising $125,000 to help construct a new launch area at East End Beach in Portland.

This cove area at East End Beach in Portland, seen April 6, is a potential spot for launching non-motorized watercraft.

The boat launch area at East End Beach in Portland, seen April 6, becomes very congested when boaters are launching motorized and non-motorized watercraft.

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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.