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PORTLAND — The city needs to separate the oversight of its parks from the Department of Public Works and develop objectives for open space management, according to a report submitted to the City Council.
But elements of the Open Space Vision and Implementation Plan are already being undertaken, City Manager Jon Jennings said Monday.
“I have always thought parks and recreation belonged together,” he said of the key suggestion in the report compiled by the Trust for Public Lands, which worked in collaboration with Portland Trails.
Starting with an $18,000 TPL grant made in July 2014, Portland Trails began an assessment of the city’s park’s, trails and open spaces.
When speaking to the City Council on March 7, Trust State Director Wolfe Tone said the city has already done a good job managing its parks. A week later, Jennings said there will be a new emphasis, including a new parks division manager position, that has been advertised on the city website and will be funded in the upcoming budget.
The TPL report lists an inventory of 63 parks, from urban lots such as Tommy’s Park on Middle Street, to expansive acreage at Evergreen Cemetery. The report also identifies trails and open spaces, and lists results from surveys showing the extent and variety of parks and open space in the city.
Traditional areas, including the Back Cove Trail, scored well, as did smaller parcels like Heseltine Park at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Irving Street in the Deering area.
“Every nice day we can, we try to get here,” Angie Jones said of Heseltine Park as her grandson, Patrick Lacy romped on a slide.
Jones was among several mothers and caregivers enjoying a warm day March 9, and she complimented the city on its management.
“I was very impressed. They come and trim trees and pick up trash,” she said.
Park management has also drawn some criticism, however.
In December, Derek Lovitch and Jeanne Lovitch of Freeport Wild Bird Supply criticized brush cutting in Capisic Pond Park, claiming city management practices harmed habitats for migratory birds.
On Monday, Deering Avenue resident Jessica Russell asked the city to improve accessibility in Longfellow Park, which sits between Longfellow, Noyes and Oakdale streets near Forest Avenue.
Russell uses a wheelchair and enjoys bringing her 3-year-old son to the park.
“It makes me a little nervous because I can’t safely keep up with him,” she said of the narrow paths in the park.
Russell would also like to see improvements because residents of the Portland Center for Assisted Living are nearby and would benefit from better accessibility.
“It is nice to have a destination, even if it is right down the street,” she said.
The city conducted a study of how the park complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act, recommending wider paved paths and a center turn around area. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said March 11 that the improvements could cost $20,000-$30,000.
Jennings said there will be some funding to improve conditions, including curb cuts around the edges of the park, but wider sidewalks inside will not be happening this year.
Lincoln Park, which sits between Congress, Federal, Pearl and Franklin streets, will be getting pavement improvements costing $250,000 as part of the city’s capital improvements budget. The work was considered the most important project by the city Parks Commission when submitting funding requests.
Russell, who also sits on the board of South Portland-based Alpha One, which provides assistance and services for adaptive living, said the Lincoln Park upgrade is needed. She would like to see some attention paid to Longfellow Park, if possible.
“If the city could do the bare minimum to get by (at Longfellow Park) for a while, with future improvements in mind, it would be much appreciated,” she said.
Capital Improvements Plan funding for parks has been cut in half this year to $580,000, but Jennings said that is not the only measure on how parks and open spaces will be managed and maintained.
“The reality is, in CIP it looks like less, but we are making (parks) a priority,” he said.
Angie Jones plays with her grandson, Patrick Lacy, at Heseltine Park off Ocean Avenue in Portland on March 9. “Every nice day, we try to get over here, Jones said.
Jessica Russell said she hopes Portland can widen sidewalks and make Longfellow Park on Noyes Street more accomodating for people with disabilities.