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Fort Williams Park arboretum debuts Saturday in Cape Elizabeth

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Fort Williams Park arboretum debuts Saturday in Cape Elizabeth

CAPE ELIZABETH — After first hatching the idea in March 2007, the Fort Williams Foundation is now reaching completion of the first phase of a massive landscaping overhaul at the Shore Road park.

Cliffside, the first phase of the Fort Williams Park arboretum to be completed, is a one-acre parcel with waterfront views, previously hidden and choked out by invasive plant species. The area is now landscaped with native plants; winding, wheelchair-accessible pathways, and manicured grass.

"This project gives us the opportunity to reclaim the fort's natural beauty and restore it back to its natural setting," said Ginger Jones, a fundraiser and grant writer for the foundation.

The completion of Cliffside will coincide with the Maine Home and Design Cape Elizabeth Garden Tour, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 14. Tickets are $25.

The tour will take visitors through 10 Cape Elizabeth homes and gardens, with the ticket sales helping to fund the continued work on the arboretum. Cliffside is the first stop.

Jones said the initial project was spurred by people interested in the native environment surrounding Portland Head Light and the fort.

More than 400 volunteers worked to clear invasive species, which helped ready the grounds for native species, such as, blueberry and huckleberry plants that now line the pathways and hills.

"This is the iconic lighthouse, this is iconic Maine," Jones said. "It has taken many, many hands to create this."

The Cliffside project cost about $400,000, a large portion of which was paid for through in-kind donations, Jones said.

The next phase of the project is already underway and will connect Cliffside to the Head Light.

In addition to restoring the natural environment, the foundation also hopes to use the arboretum as an educational tool for people learn about native species in Maine and plant them in their own backyard, Jones said.

Cliffside is one of 15 sites planned for the arboretum, which includes plans for a children's garden. The foundation has set up a design contest with six area landscape designers to come up with a conceptual plan by Sept. 4 to build the garden.

Although the total arboretum project is far from completed, Jones said the foundation's goal is to have all the sites finished by summer 2014, in time for the park's 50th anniversary.

The foundation was chartered in 2001 by the Cape Elizabeth Town Council and the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, and charged with the task of preserving and enhancing the fort's history and environment.

The fundraising campaign for the arboretum is $3 million.

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

Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine