CAPE ELIZABETH — A conceptual drawing for an alternate entrance to Crescent Beach State Park was released last week followed by environmental and safety concerns from the community.
The drawing shows an entrance road off Route 77 running south between the Inn by the Sea and Richmond Terrace to a maintenance road that runs parallel to the beach. The road eventually connects to the west side of the 87-state-owned acres of the park, which includes a large portion of the existing parking lot. The drawing also included an additional parking lot in vacant farmland near the Route 77.
Rauni Kew, public relations director for Inn by the Sea, said she is concerned about the potential entrance and use of the maintenance road by the more than 110,000 people who visit the park every year.
“It could be a danger to wildlife,” she said, noting the Inn’s work for restoring a section of their land for the endangered New England cottontail. “We think it would negatively impact the quality of life with a busy parking lot, whereas, there was a field there before. One more open space being covered with black top would have a negative impact.”
The effort to look for a new entrance is in response to lease negotiations that stalled last month over 100 acres of the 187-acre park. The Sprague Corporation, which owns the leased land, previously leased the land to the state for half a century until the previous lease expired in 2010. The lease has been extended twice since then and now expires again in April next year.
The potential impact of the road on the New England cottontail could be significant because there are only 300-500 remaining, said Scott Lindsay, biologist for the Gray office of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“For an animal like the cottontail, it may be enough to confine them and present more of a potential barrier,” he said. “When you start to present dispersal barriers, it does restrict movement and connectivity between populations.”
The road could be put in with minimal disturbance, he said, but it would have to be done carefully.
State Rep. Kim Monaghan-Derrig, D-Cape Elizabeth, said in addition to the concerns about the environment, she was also worried about the takeover of vacant farmland and the safety of people traveling on Route 77.
The plan presented by the state would take away potential farmland to make room for the parking lot. It could also create a potentially dangerous situation on Route 77 where cars would be lining up to turn into the park without the extra lane to pass that is currently in place at the existing entrance, she said.
“It’s wide open now and it offers more fluid activity to go in and out of the park,” Monaghan-Derrig said. “I can’t even visualize how that would look in that proposed parking area.”
She said preservation and protection of the park is a top priority and expects all state parties involved to work together to keep the park public, but would like to see more transparency in the process.
“My big concern if this goes forward is that it’s the beginning of the end for the state park system,” Monaghan-Derrig said. “Is it really about keeping and preserving and protecting, or is it more about doing what (the state) wants to do? There’s not enough transparency here. We hear one thing from a department in public and one thing from another behind closed doors.”
It may take collaboration from outside groups to raise money to secure the land for the public, she said, although she would not say how much the Sprague Corp. wants for the land, only that it is “significantly more than the $10,000 they’ve been given since 2010.”
Town Manager Mike McGovern met with representatives from the Sprague Corp. Wednesday and said that the two parties need to have more discussions.
Still, he remains optimistic that a solution to keep the park open to the public can be reached before the end of the year.
“I think it’s important to see the common objectives, ” McGovern said. “No one wants to see the park locked up. And, I don’t think anyone wants to find out the night before the lease expires.”
The State Department of Conservation’s latest plans on a new parking lot and access road for a smaller Crescent Beach State Park if negotiations to lease the Sprague Corp. property fail before the lease expires in April.