Cape Elizabeth's Fort Williams Park 'wish list' totals $760K

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors sent $760,000 worth of suggested Fort Williams Park improvements to the Planning Board, while assuring the public that the recommendations are not immediate needs in the upcoming town budget.

“This is laying out a game plan for how we would like to approach upgrading and improving the park over time,”Councilor Frank Governali said Feb. 13, when the council forwarded an updated park master plan to the Planning Board for review and comment.

The Planning Board is required to reply within 60 days to what council Chairwoman Sara Lennon called a “wish list” for the future of the park, which includes Portland Head Light.

Fort Williams Advisory Commission Chairman Bill Nickerson said the new master plan contains more than 90 recommendations gathered during meetings and surveys from a range of park users.

In a  presentation to councilors, Nickerson and Bob Mitchell of Portland-based landscape architects Mitchell & Associates confined their discussion to 10 prioritized items they believe can improve safety, create more revenue and enhance recreational use of the 90-acre park obtained from the federal government in 1964.

Leading the list of priorities for park improvements is the expansion and reconfiguration of the parking area at Ship Cove Beach. The parking area also provides direct access to Goddard Mansion, and the plan suggests renovating and possibly adding a canopy to a nearby picnic area.

The plan suggests building a turnaround area for vehicles, rebuilding the intersection of the parking lot and Powers Drive (the park entrance road) and widening the sidewalk on the northern side of Powers Road.

Expanding the lot from 47 to 70 spaces and building the turnaround area is estimated to cost $73,000. Improvements to the picnic area could cost at least $34,000, according to the plan.

A priority in the plan calls for constructing a new group gathering area near the overflow parking area and parade grounds, but the addition could cost about $62,000. Part of the expense would be the cost of extending water and electrical service to the site, but the plan notes the location provides good views of Ram Island Lighthouse and is close to park playing fields.

The most expensive proposal in the updated master plan suggests building a picnic area west of Merriam Road and overlooking The Green, a field adjacent to the shoreline and Portland Head Light. The area would have to be cleared, but has revenue potential, according to the plan. The estimated cost for a new picnic shelter is $197,000.

Generating additional revenue for park maintenance in advance of the 50-year anniversary of the town’s acquisition of the land has been a goal of Town Manager Michael McGovern over the last several years.

In 2010, McGovern submitted his own suggestions to councilors, who this year enacted fees for tour vehicles. A program allowing food vendors to operate from May through October raised more than $10,000 last year. Vendors will return to the park this year, and McGovern said he hopes about $14,000 will be raised with the addition of a new vendor site near Ship Cove Beach.

Councilors approved assessing seasonal and per-visit fees to tour vehicle operators this summer, and McGovern anticipates at least $25,000 will be generated from the new fees. The fiscal year 2012 budget approved last spring increased town expenditures for park maintenance and operations by more than 50 percent, from $163,000 to $244,000, according to town budget documents.

To enhance park safety, the master plan calls for adding “aesthetically pleasing edge restraints” to the Cliff Walk along the shore line from Portland Head Light to the Ship Cove area. The estimated cost for adding the restraints is $58,000.

Preservation efforts at Goddard Mansion are not mentioned in the master plan, but it is suggested the former central power station for the fort undergo $44,000 worth of work to preserve and protect the structure, while sealing open roof areas and removing vegetation growing on the structure.

The updated master plan replaces one written in 2003.

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

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.