SOUTH PORTLAND — Plans to turn what was an overgrown, neglected and weed-covered lot in Knightville into a full-fledged park are moving closer to fruition.
Dan Hogan, of E Street, received approval last week from the Nature Conservancy in Brunswick for his plan to rebuild the small plot of land known as the Pope Preserve into a modest, but well-groomed park.
Located behind the Hannaford Supermarket on Cottage Road, the small parcel sits along a tidal channel cove off the Fore River. Standing at the water’s edge from the preserve give visitors a direct view of Portland’s working waterfront.
The preserve was named after Robert G. Albion’s wife, Jennie Barnes Pope, who died in the mid 1970s. The two lived on the property, and Albion owned much of the surrounding acreage until the mid 1980s, when he donated it to the Nature Conservancy.
The conservancy then sold the 1-acre upland parcel and 27 acres of adjacent mudflats to the city for $1, Hogan said.
The sale included deed restrictions and the understanding that the area will remain preserved open space. Any additions or new plantings at the parcel must be vetted and approved by the conservancy, because the organization still has oversight over the land.
In the years since, the parcel hasn’t been regularly maintained and grew thick with invasive Japanese knotweed and trash.
For Hogan, who can see the vacant lot from his back yard at the end of E Street, clearing the parcel came about inadvertently three years ago.
Hogan and his wife, avid trekkers on the city’s Greenbelt Walkway, wanted to circumvent the Hannaford parking lot when accessing the Thomas Street connector that leads to the Greenbelt from their home.
Etching his path through the woods landed Hogan on the overgrown lot. When it became apparent how ideal the spot would be for the neighborhood if cleared and manicured, his project tripled in size.
“I had no intention of making it into a park,” Hogan said Monday as he stood with his back to the ocean on a path of wood chips he and volunteers laid that meanders across the preserve.
Over the next year and a half, Hogan worked to stamp out the knotweed by digging up the roots and covering the soil with heavy rolls of carpet.
Earlier this spring, to celebrate the near complete removal of knotweed and to create a haven for monarch butterflies, Hogan and other volunteers planted milkweed along the shoreline.
This month, after consulting with a landscape architect, Hogan presented a site plan of sorts to the conservancy, which included his proposed “plant palette” of 13 native shrubs and trees, including shadbush, seaside goldenrod, black chokeberry, bayberry, swamp milkweed, salt marsh hay and marsh marigold.
Rehabilitating the upland area by planting native vegetation will not only enhance the environment by staving off invasives, he said, but it will also provide improved aesthetics for neighbors.
The plans include installing a horseshoe-shaped path, possibly with three granite benches. The plants and trees will act as buffers for the nearby supermarket and its parking lot.
In his proposal to the conservancy, Hogan wrote, “the intended use of the preserve is passive enjoyment of the natural beauty of the site and as a habitat for birds and other wildlife, as envisioned by the donors of the land, the Pope/Albion family.”
While Hogan is working with City Manager Jim Gailey as the project progresses, it does not have to be sanctioned by the City Council, Gailey said Tuesday.
Hogan is now poised to begin looking for funding through grants, donations and fundraising. He hopes to plant the border trees and shrubs and install the path this year.
Late Monday afternoon, as Hogan stood and surveyed the preserve, two geese and their four fuzzy goslings left the calm waters and waddled onto shore.
“Everyday I wake up here and have to pinch myself,” he said.
The Pope Preserve in South Portland is on track to become a modest park, thanks to Knightville resident Dan Hogan.