Effort begins to improve Mill Creek Park in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Mill Creek Park proponents are moving forward with efforts to develop a maintenance and improvement plan for the park.

Regina Leonard, a Topsham-based landscape architect, has been hired by Friends of Mill Creek Park to assist with the planning, and a new gazebo is slated to be installed in October. 

Leonard and the friends will host a one-hour public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 5:30 p.m. to kick off the project. The meeting will take place in the 10-acre park along Broadway between Ocean Street and Cottage Road, to give residents the chance to express what they like and don’t like about the park.

Leonard said the meeting will be the first of several outreach events that she and the friends will conduct over the coming months. She said she also hopes to hold community events that are fun, creative and educational, including tours with wildlife professionals and embarking on park-related art projects. Similar events were held when Leonard was drafting a plan for Portland’s Eastern Promenade and contributed to the final outcome, she said.

“It was great,” Leonard said. “The people attending learned a lot and saw the area in a new light and perspective.”

Leonard said that after the first community meeting is held, her partners from Woodard & Curran, Denise Cameron and Zachary Henderson, will begin an technical analysis of the duck pond that will assess water quality – a major concern of park-goers – and the eroding pond bank.

Leonard, who designed the new playground at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, said she hopes to have a draft plan available for the public by January and a final action plan for the park by mid-February.

“We wanted to give the city something they can actually use, rather than something is just put on a shelf,” she said, noting the plan would also help with the friends’ fundraising efforts.

The current master plan for the park is from 1978. It recounts evolution of the park, which was a grist mill in 1722 and a landfill in the 1900s before being developed into a park honoring armed service members.  

“We going to see if the master plan still works,” Leonard said. 

Leonard was chosen from a field of 11 landscape architects who submitted proposals. Her services will cost nearly $15,000, of which $10,000 will be provided by the city through a federal grant program. The remainder will be paid by the friends.

According to the proposal, the recommendations will likely include ways to improve accessibility and lighting for the elderly and handicapped. It also seeks to better position park furnishings, like benches and trash cans, while also recommending specific types of plantings for the park. Furthermore, the recommendations will seek to reduce maintenance needs and cut reliance on fertilizers and pesticides.

The action plan will also take into account current park uses, like the Rotary Club’s annual Christmas tree sale, and future development, like the military service monument planned for the corner of Ocean Street and Broadway.

Meanwhile, City Manager Jim Gailey said a new handicapped-accessible gazebo will be installed this fall, possibly as soon as late October. The $85,000 project is being funded through the Community Development Block Grant program. 

Park Superintendent John Switzer said the city is developing bid specifications for the new gazebo, which will likely be a steel structure in the same area as the current gazebo. The new structure will be 6 or 7 feet wider than the existing one and the city may extend the foundation to accommodate big bands and larger gatherings.

“They’re pretty nice now; they don’t even look like steel,” he said. “It may even have ornate railings. We think it will blend in with the rest of the park.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net