Design picked for children's garden at Cape Elizabeth's Fort Williams Park

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CAPE ELIZABETH — After unveiling the first phase of an intensive redesign of the Fort Williams Park Arboretum this summer, the park foundation has selected a landscape design for an estimated $500,000 Children’s Garden.

The Fort Williams Foundation announced last week that a design by Portland-based landscape architects Mitchell & Associates was chosen from four other blind submissions for the one-acre garden.

“In looking at the five competition entries there was one that most clearly fit with the natural opportunities of the site and looked at matching those with development of the park,” said Lynn Shaffer, who is on the foundation’s Children’s Garden Design Committee.

Although the plans are conceptual at this point, the proposed garden will be a play space that incorporates the park’s natural environment, with some historical aspects included.

The garden, which will be behind the tennis courts near the pond on the west side of the park, will have a meadow and a woodland area that use surrounding plants to create play areas, such as a willow tunnel and a maze. It will also have a lighthouse large enough for about four kids to stand inside, with colored panels bringing light in, and a view of Ram Island Ledge Light.

“I think the main thing is that is different from a traditional play-station is that it is not relying on play structures and really celebrates the beautiful location at Fort Williams,” said Sashie Misner, lead designer for the garden.

The goal of the garden is to give a space for kids to play that stimulates learning and curiosity by using the landscape as the play area, she said.

“If you compare it to a thick structure play thing, it doesn’t change throughout the seasons,” Misner said, noting that in a meadow the characteristics of plant and insect life change throughout the year. “It’ll be a real changing experience … and those things provide access to kids to understand what makes those special.”

The design plans will go through the approval process during the winter and spring, with construction slated to start next summer, said Ginger Jones, a fundraiser and grant writer for the foundation.

The cost of the garden includes all construction and design, as well as, administrative costs and money for a sustainability fund, she said.

The garden is a portion of the second phase of a three-phase process that includes 15 different restoration sites around the park. The first phase, Cliffside, the landscape between Portland Head Light and Ships Cove, was completed in the summer. 

The park sees more than 800,000 visitors a year, Jones said.

One of the main reasons for the restoration is to remove invasive plant species from the park that choke out the native plants, Shaffer said.

“We want provide education to people of all ages in a way that helps them understand what they are losing when invasive species take over the natural environment,” she said.

Much of the work for the overall project still remains, but Jones said the foundation hopes to have the restoration complete by the summer of 2014, in time for the park’s 50th anniversary.

The total costs of the entire park overhaul will be about $2.5 million, which is intended to be raised through private donations and grants.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.