Guard duty: Maine soldiers build structures at Topsham park

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TOPSHAM — The Maine Army National Guard’s recent work at Head of Tide Park is being called a win-win for all concerned.

The 136th Engineer Company, part of the 133rd Engineer Battalion, has built picnic shelters on the park’s two parcels of land, which surround the head of tide area of the Cathance River. The soldiers have also built a two-unit privy and a kiosk, adding to improvements made at the park in recent years.

Chief Warrant Officer Chris Barnaby, one of the project managers overseeing the construction, said about 30 people were on site each day, weather permitting. They did much of the work last month and plan to return this summer to complete the rest.

The soldiers learned essential hands-on building skills: “We can now teach (them) how to do something different,” Barnaby said. “We get training, and a not-for-profit organization (the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust) gets free labor.

The town of Topsham provided all the materials, while the soldiers provide the labor.

And the benefits continue.

“We received a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to do all of these park amenities,” Angela Twitchell, executive director of the land trust, said last week. “And since the labor costs and construction of the pavilions and the toilets and the kiosk will now be free but can still count as (a) match, we can use those dollars to implement other parts of the (park) master plan, so it’s just fabulous.”

Twitchell praised the concerted effort of the town and land trust to develop “a really great conservation and outdoor recreation amenity in our town. … It really would never have happened if the land trust was doing it alone, or the town was doing it alone.”

Pam LeDuc, Topsham’s Parks and Recreation director, has worked closely with Twitchell to bring the park to life. She said she appreciates the entire community’s involvement in the endeavor; not just the land trust, but also the Cathance River Education Alliance, the Topsham Public Works Department, and various of local contractors “who stepped up to make the process happen.”

LeDuc also called the relationship with the National Guard “wonderful.”

The bulk of the present Head of Tide property, which once housed a feldspar mill and later two apartment buildings and a 4,000-gallon overboard discharge system, went on the market in late 2007. Local groups worked to secure that property for conservation, and Topsham Development served as a bridge owner, holding the parcel until the funds could be raised for the town to acquire it.

The land trust later purchased the adjoining Cutler property and donated it to the town, bringing the park to its current size of more than five acres. The land trust will ultimately have an easement on the property, to ensure forever its conservation and management as a park.

The education alliance, which had inherited income from the property’s sale, donated those funds toward the park project, Twitchell said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Maine Army National Guard soldiers work on one of two picnic shelters at Head of Tide Park in Topsham last week. They have also built a two-unit privy and kiosk on the Cathance Road property.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.