Topsham to celebrate opening of Head of Tide Park

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TOPSHAM — Twelve years of planning, funding and development along the Cathance River will culminate Saturday, June 2, with the grand opening of Head of Tide Park.

The 12-acre property at 235 Cathance Road, owned by the town and stewarded by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, has much to offer the nature enthusiast.

There’s the 15-foot waterfall at the river’s highest tidal reach, hand-carry boat access on either side of the falls, a trailhead that connects to more than 7 miles of trails, along with picnic and parking areas. Informational signs cover the rich history of the site, where a sawmill operated 300 years ago, followed by a feldspar mill.

A community forum on that history takes place at the Topsham Municipal Building, 100 Main St., at 10:30 a.m., followed by a 2-2:45 p.m. history tour at the park. A fly fishing demonstration runs there from 2:30-3:30 p.m., as does a conversation on ecology from 3-3:45 p.m. A ribbon-cutting wraps things up at 4 p.m.

Since parking is limited, those who want to attend are asked to bicycle, hike or paddle to the park. Hikers can meet at the Cathance River Education Alliance Ecology Center, Barnes Leap Loop, at 1 p.m., and bikers can meet at the Topsham Public Library, 25 Foreside Road, at 1:30 p.m. Shuttles will also run every half hour between 1:30 and 5 p.m. between the library and park.

The park’s story began with an ending.

Elizabeth Kelso, who died in 2005, owned the apartments that sat where the mill had once operated. Through a 2006 bequest, a one-third interest in the property went to the Cathance River Education Alliance, which motivated CREA to seek conservation of the entire property.

Agreeing to serve as the project’s fiscal agent, the BTLT board had Angela Twitchell, the land trust’s executive director, coordinate conservation and fundraising activities. BTLT bought the abutting 1.5-acre Cutler property in 2010, and donated it to the town, according to the grand opening’s press release.

Topsham Development used its enterprise fund to buy the entire property in 2009, as well as the 7-acre Direnzo parcel – now used for parking and soon for hand-carry boat access – across the street in 2014. TDI served as interim owner in both cases until the town and BTLT could raise the funds to purchase all the pieces of the 12-acre parcel, a process completed this March.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Twitchell said with a smile May 24 while looking around the site. After 12 years, “we’ve got the whole vision completed.”

The endeavor, which has encompassed all of her 10 years as BTLT director, “is one of the projects I feel the most proud of,” Twitchell added, praising the various partnerships and funding sources that brought its master plan to fruition.

The project raised $555,000 in local, state and federal grant funds, along with private foundation grants and individual donations, she noted.

“It’s just a really feel-good project,” Twitchell said. “… Every time you come here, there are people enjoying it. It’s a great accomplishment.”

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

Angela Twitchell is executive director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, which worked with the town of Topsham and other entities to purchase and conserve Head of Tide Park, 12 acres of property along the Cathance River.

The ball mill at left is among several lasting relics from a feldspar mill, which operated at the site of Head of Tide Park in the 19th and 20th centuries. At right is a pavilion built several years ago by the Army National Guard for visitors.

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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.